A musical meeting of minds at a writing retreat led by Kathryn Williams led to Waterson, the daughter of Lal Waterson as, as such, English folk royalty, and Stroud-based Australian singer Emily Barker writing a song entitled ‘I’m Drawn’.
That, a dark, dank foliage folk plucked banjo number featuring cello and their two voices, now appears as part of this first collaborative album, produced by multi-instrumentalist Adem Ilhan, another attendee at the retreat, and featuring contributions by Lukas Drinkwater on guitar and bass and drummer Rob Pemberton. Following this initial collaboration, the pair continued to meet, at their respective home, to write these other songs that push their respective folk boundaries into other fields.
First up comes the pensive (and perhaps project descriptive) people watching title track with its eerie lyrics (“I’m a fly on the wall.. a lone ghost taking notes”) and sombre bass and cello, the mood immediately upended with the walking beat and handclaps of Richard Thompson meets The Bangles folk rock ‘Perfect Needs’.
A personal favourite is the hypnotic ‘Little Hits Of Dopamine’, a vaguely Eastern rhythmic chug with clicking percussion, trippy double bass groove and nervy banjo about social media addition with its “instant gratification” and “one click communication”.
Opening with and featuring thumb piano, the heady musical atmosphere continues on the alt-folk ‘All Is Well’, another Eastern snakelike rhythm weaving around traditional folk roots that calls to mind Robert Plant’s experiments in melding different folk cultures. The mood and tempo’s sustained as Barker takes lead on the late 60s psychedelia-shaded ‘We Don’t Speak Anytime’, a pulsing drone and sparse bass underpinning the vocally shared slow coma JOMO waltz ‘Drinks Two and Three’.
Barker’s spooked, plucked banjo provides the bedrock to ‘I’m Drawn’, the harmonies kicking in on the chorus, nimble fingerpicked acoustic taking over on the folksiest number, ‘Twister’ which, with lines like “he’s an eight ball” and the refrain “Let’s stay curious”, musically calls to mind the solo work of Linda Thompson or, perhaps more so, daughter Kami, at least until it suddenly takes off into a brief bridge of backward sounds.
The creative balance has, generally speaking, Waterson providing the lyrics and Barker the music, but the latter does have one lyric of her own, albeit ‘Disarm’ being just a 57 second naked bluesy track written at the retreat with Adem and set to a music box backing created by making holes in a paper scroll and then then fed through the machine to create the sound.
‘It’ll Be Good’ returns to piano for a lovely apology for not “being in the mood to be a person today”, Barker’s echoey distant backing vocals counterpointing Waterson’s note of weary self-convincing optimism before treated whispery vocals misleadingly introduce ‘Trick Of The Light’ which then, anchored by Drinkwater’s bass and reveals itself as a sultry sung 40s jazzy blues that echoes Barker’s own most recent album. After mention of illumination, it ends with the achingly beautiful ‘Going Dark’, a slow and soulful dual vocal piano waltz around the ballroom of depression (“when I go so low, when I go dark”) that dances with the ghost of Sandy Denny to a cello serenade.
The press release describes the album as a truly special one-off collaboration. Let’s hope not.
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‘We Don’t Talk Anytime’ – official video: