Album Review: Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo – Dear River

Dear River is the fourth album from Australian UK-based singer-songwriter Emily Barker and her band The Red Clay Halo. Since the formation of The Red Clay Halo in 2005, Emily Barker and her band have crafted an acclaimed and illustrious career – releasing three critically-lauded self-financed albums, selling out a string of UK, performing with Frank Turner at the London 2012 Olympics, and picking up BAFTA and Ivor Novello awards for writing duties on the themes to hit BBC dramas Wallander and The Shadow Line.

Dear River is the group’s first album release since signing with Linn Records in 2012. Produced by Calum Malcolm (The Blue Nile), Dear River sees Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo exploring the themes of family, home, exile, and displacement through a blend of rock, country, and folk influences. Barker drew on her own story and the wider joys and sorrows gathered from her rigorous researches into the experiences of others when writing the songs on this album.

The album’s eleven tracks are intelligently-crafted ballads brimming with musical and lyrical ideas that resonate long after the album has reached the end of its run-time. While the album is best listened to straight through in one sitting, with the songs and their themes blending into a colourful musical tapestry, there are some definite highlights.

Album opener ‘Dear River’ is an excellent preview of what to expect on the album, introducing Barker’s clear and warm vocals, which blend with the strings, acoustic guitars, and percussion, building to a rousing second verse where the song truly opens up.

‘Tuesday’ and ‘Letters’ are ponderous and poignant examinations of the album’s strongest themes – those of emigration and displacement. Some of the heaviest emotions in these tracks are in fact conveyed by the glorious heart-wrenching strings, as much as through lyrics and vocals.

While the instrumentation on the album consists primarily of strings, guitar, and percussion, ‘Ghost Narrative’ shakes up the game with a surprising intro of harmonica, which elevates the soundscape of the album to a new level.

Dear River is an extremely enjoyable album to listen to, blending country, folk, and classic rock influences in a refreshing way. While its topical themes have been dealt with countless times over the last number of years, Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo discover new and vital things to say about them.

Dear River is available July 8 on Linn Records.

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