Arriving in Australia to visit her family for the first time in two years, Emily and husband Lukas had to spend 14 days in their Perth hotel room under Covid quarantine regulations. So, to pass the time, he suggested recording an album: Room 882. So armed with their guitar and double bass and a keyboard dropped off by friends, they set about covers of songs written by Australian artists, the majority of which had soundtracked her late teens in Western Australia, complemented by a clutch of more contemporary numbers. It’s one such that serves as the album opener, a hushed, fingerpicked harmonised take on Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s optimism-driven ‘Push The Sky Away’, while the similarly more recent choices line up as Paul Kelly’s climate change warning waltzer ‘Sleep Australia Sleep’ and, a powerful indictment of victim blaming around sexual assault, a slow, keyboard accompanied version of ‘Boys will be Boys’, written by emerging name Stella Donnelly, a Perth-based Welsh-Australian, originally featured on her 2017 debut EP Thrush Metal and recommended to them during a visit to a Fremantle record store on their previous trip.
Turning to the tracks of Barker’s teenage years, listened to on tape while her yellow VW Beetle, the first comes from 90s rock outfit Silverchair (Drinkwater also a fan), ‘Tomorrow’ being taken from their 1995 Frogstomp debut and wonderfully recast from the Nirvana-like original into a gentle folksy fingerpicked incarnation. Originally performed by folk rock trio The Waifs, it’s followed by the appropriately ex-pat yearning of ‘London Still’ before heading into the cosmic psychedelia of The Church and a delicate double bass-coloured ‘Under The Milky Way’, the song that made the band an international name, with additional remotely recorded backing vocals by Fanny Lumsden.
It wouldn’t be a real Australian album without a song about drinking, and while Slim Dusty may not have been on her mix tape, the bittersweet ‘Will You Miss Me When You’re Sober’, from Deborah Conway’s 1991 debut String Of Pearls most certainly was, here harmonica and harmonies accentuating the country flavour to the cascading fingerpicked notes. Another Australian country name, Kasey Chambers, provides a lovely reading of ‘The Captain’, a wistful number about developing self-confidence and finding her own destiny from her 1999 solo debut.
A somewhat lesser known name beyond their native shores, You Am I were an alternative rock band fronted by Tim Rogers and the first Australian band to release three successive albums that each debuted at number one on the ARIA Albums Chart, the strummed chug ‘Mr Milk’ with its woo hoo backing from Drinkwater coming from the third, 1995’s Hourly, Daily. Finally, Jack Carty adding backing vocals with Drinkwater on guitar and double bass, there’s ‘Black the Sun’, the title track from the 1999 debut by Alex Lloyd (aka Alex Wasiliev), the original Crowded House-like rock transformed into dreamily narcotic folk.
Available only digitally on Bandcamp, in no way an official follow up to A Dark Murmuration Of Words (or its subsequent reimagining Flight Path Rhymes) but nevertheless a wonderful what we did on our holidays/songs from a room addition to your Emily Barker (and Drinkwater) collection.
Artists’ website: www.emilybarker.bandcamp.com/music
‘Tomorrow’ – official video: