APPLEWOOD ROAD – Applewood Road (Gearbox GB1531)

Applewood RoadThose for whom the highlight of the Oh Brother soundtrack was the coming together of Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch will undoubtedly have been disappointed that no further recordings by the trio followed. This album is for them. Meeting for the first time in the autumn of 2014, within two hours Emily Barker, Amber Rubarth and Amy Speace had written their first song. So pleased where they with the following week’s recordings, they decided to get back together and record some more. Six months later, with the help of guitarist Aaron Lee Tasjan, Telisha Williams on upright bass, drummer Josh Day, Jabe Beyer on harmonica and the great Fats Kaplin on accordion and fiddle, the album was completed, live to stereo tape.

Barker will, of course, be familiar from both her solo work and with Red Clay Halo, not to mention being responsible for the theme music to the BBC series Wallander and The Shadow Line, the latter of which won an Ivor Novello. A former actress, Peace, who was discovered by Judy Collins, has also released several critically acclaimed albums, among them How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat and That Kind of Girl, her song ‘Weight of the World’ being ranked fourth best Folk Song of the Decade by leading New York radio station WFUV.

Rubarth is probably a lesser known quantity, though she too has released a clutch of well reviewed albums as well as co-founding Brooklyn indie outfit The Paper Raincoat whose work has featured in, among others, One Tree Hill.

Here, they variously contribute collaborative and solo material, kicking off with the eponymous title track, the first and only song they wrote together, a dreamy, slow strummed close harmony leaving home number, the three voices backed just by upright bass. Next up is the first from Rubarth (whose name appears on seven of the 13 credits), co-writing with Norah Jones’ guitarist Adam Levy on ‘To The Stars’, a song that combines wishes, the magic of radio, love, life and mortality all in three minutes.

Elsewhere Rubarth joins writing forces with Adrianne Gonzalez and Garrison Starr on the guitar snare and claps gospel shuffle ‘Honey Won’t You’, and, Peace taking lead, Josh Day for the Van Gogh inspired ‘Row Boat’, the boat bobbing rhythm carried by a drum played in the manner of a tape loop.

Writing solo, she contributes ‘Old Time Country Song’, which, featuring fiddle, banjo and a false start to capture that live moment, sounds exactly as you would expect from the title; the Louvinsesque front porch good time ‘Lovin’ Eyes’ with Tasjan picking nylon string guitar; and the brief album closer lullaby ‘My Love Grows’.

Other than the title track, Peace is only credited on two numbers, her solo offering being ‘Josephine’, a mid-tempo, fiddle and guitar backed free spirit song to her niece written from the perspective of her twin brother. She also co-writes with Robby Hecht on the gentle first flames of romance that is ‘Give Me Love’ featuring Barker’s plucked banjo and Kaplin’s wheezing accordion. Hecht also pairs with Barker on ‘I’m Not Afraid Anymore’, Tasjan playing slide on a keening song about acknowledging when a relationship has run its course.

The album’s remaining three tracks are all penned by Barker, the first up being ‘Home Fires’ which, with minimally picked acoustic guitar and soaring three part harmonies, uses winter imagery to speak of how when you open your heart, you have to take in hurt as well as joy, but how you need to keep the fires burning to survive the cold. Built around a banjo riff and harmonica ‘Sad Little Tune’, an upbeat number about not taking things you already have for granted while wishing for more. And, finally, written, like that, in Western Australia and inspired by the bushfires burning while she was there, there’s the breezy cooing harmonies of the 30s flavoured ‘Bring The Car Round’, a similarly themed song about holding on to what matters. Unfussy and rather lovely, their voices flowing beautifully together this is a true delight and it’s to be hoped that this road is the start of a journey rather than the culmination of one.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: http://applewoodroadmusic.com/

‘Lovin’ Eyes’ – official video: