Fresh from her stint on the Revival Tour last autumn, Emily Barker returns with her fourth Red Clay Halo accompanied album. Indeed, it's her sixth record in the last decade, and that can only be a good thing. Dear River is a folk album shrouded with country, giving it an odd sense of transatlantic homelessness. While it washes over you pleasantly enough with its hazy brand of nostalgia, it does feel a little like Barker is treading water - rather than pushing the boat out.
Loosely based around a theme of water, the eleven songs here tell tales of wide-open landscapes, rivers, and oceans. Water acts as a metaphor for the passage of time, the security of home and as a barrier to a different life. While Barker has tried to make the material relatively timeless by deliberately avoiding specific locations or references, it's almost frustratingly vague and less personal because of it. For example, 'A Spadeful Of Ground' poses a number of questions: "What would you give for a spadeful of ground? Would you sail overseas? Would you almost drown?" While the track speaks of forced migration, conflict and the hope of a new world, what's not clear is whether Barker is referencing her native Australia, America or, indeed, other indigenous communities around the world.
Musically, Dear River treads a well-worn path but manages to avoid feeling derivative, while retaining a warm air of familiarity. The title track is a straight up, guitar-driven country track, with Gill Sandell being given ample opportunity to shine on accordion. Anna Jenkins' violin is well-highlighted throughout the record as well. Although Barker's voice is the focus of attention as the band shifts into a more melancholy mood for songs like 'Letters' or 'Sleeping Horses', their musical contributions elevate the material.
Continue reading: Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo - Dear River Album Review
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