SALLY BARKER – Ghost Girl (Old Dog Records 017)

Ghost GirlThe title track is a new recording of the song she wrote for 2015 Poozies album, Into The Well, featuring real rather than electric piano, given a softer feel and with Tom Bull on double bass, Sally Barker’s follow-up to Maid In England, the 2014 album on the back of her appearances on The Voice, is woven around a theme of abandonment and putting your heart back together.

One of the first reactions to being dumped is want retribution, and smoke-wisped jazzy blues opening track ‘Emperor Of Cool’ taps into the narrator’s embittered feelings towards the ex who cruelly tells her, “the harmony to all of your songs” he only dated her for a bet, sharing his less attractive attributes with whoever she meets.

Realisation of being broken arrives with the early Dylan influences of ‘I’m Not Whole’, the acoustic guitar riff behind the piano written and played by her son, its lyrics built around imagery of the sea and being washed up on the shore. Delivered against a steady acoustic guitar pulse and streaked by pedal steel, ‘Like Sugar’ offers a different spin, a woman lonely while her soldier husband is away at war being courted by a local chancer bringing food and stockings and offering to help with a little DIY.

Picking up the ‘Ghost Girl’ imagery and running with it, ‘Vampire of Love’, featuring Sally on piano and guitar, is a slow dance romancer with a 30s styled waltzing chorus that, set in Victorian England, draws on the dangerous sexuality embodied in the Dracula-inspired seducer.

The mood shifts again for the 60s R&B sultry groove of ‘Hand of Fate’, apparently written for Tom Jones and inspired by the offer of major label deal following The Voice, one which, perhaps wisely, she declined. Bolstering the instrumentation with keys, slide and electric guitar (Knopfleresque solo provided by PJ Wright), the country tinged ‘Mr Bang’ apparently has its inspiration in a difficult and troubled chap who also happened to be very loud drummer.

If it’s been about loss, betrayal and loneliness so far, the even more country slow waltz ‘Two Hearts’, again featuring pedal steel and with Ian Crabtree on Spanish guitar, addresses the possibility of finding new love, hope tinted with hesitancy.

Underpinned by double bass, the earlier jazz vibe resurfaces for the smoky, finger clicking ‘Queen of Reckless Feelings’, a lyrical throwback to Barker’s earlier and less complicated singleton days. She reminds me here slightly of Janis Ian, as indeed she does on the spare acoustic ‘Tell It Like It Is’, a brittle break up of an affair number, even if the publicity blurb evokes Dory Previn, another 70s singer-songwriter doyenne of songs about spurned and discarded lovers.

The album ends with Glenn Hughes on piano for the brief instrumental ‘Theme to ‘Ghost Girl’’. But, before that pedal steel, Spanish guitar and the theme of new but difficult starts are reprised with the folk and country tones of ‘Canada’, a strummed first person narrative of hardships suffered by settlers encouraged by the British Government to emigrate there in the early 1800s on the back of the fur trade boom and build new lives for their families. Some went under, but many more survived and emerged stronger for the experience, which, in a nutshell, is the message at the core of this fine album.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Ghost Girl’ live:

SALLY BARKER – Love Rat EP (Old Dog Records 015)

SALLY BARKER – Love Rat EP (Old Dog Records 015)Sally Barker’s appearance on The Voice brought her to the attention of a new audience and her joining Fotheringay reminded the rest of us that she is still here. Those of us fortunate enough to hear the rejuvenated band on stage also got to learn first hand what a fabulous voice she has.

This six-track EP is the next step in her career relaunch, which sounds a bit cynical of me but it’s the way the business is. It closes with ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ which should guarantee some extra sales but the record isn’t a one-trick pony. The opener is an acoustic rocker, ‘Jealous Bones’, written by Sally and Carol Leeming with Glenn Hughes keyboards laying down the foundation and that’s followed by Debbie Cassell’s jazzy ‘Kissing A Stranger’ with a deceptively simple backing of acoustic guitar and piano.

Next comes a classic, ‘Walk On By’, recorded live with just piano – Glenn Hughes earns his corn yet again – in a stripped-down, slowed-down arrangement. The title track is written by Barker, Cassell, Ian Crabtree (Sally’s producer/bassist/guitarist) and Martin Ansell and returns to the funky acoustic rock that opened the show. In a change of style ‘Heat & The Shell’, another of Sally’s own songs, features Keith Buck’s pedal steel guitar and Crabtree’s bass before building to a big finish with Adam Ellis’s accordion.

Finally, a live ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ is gorgeous and brittle with Sally’s voice about to crack at the end of the bridge – a brilliant example of vocal control before Hughes’ piano gives her a break before the final choruses in a feat of understated drama. There’s a huge list of projects I’d love to see Sally involved in – and I don’t think I’m alone – but this will do nicely for a while.

Dai Jeffries


Artist’s website:

“Walk On By” live. Not the performance on the record – too much audience chatter!

SALLY BARKER – Maid In England (Hypertension HYP 14305)

sally bI’m not sure that, after a career spanning some 28 years, during which time she’s released six solo albums, two with The Poozies and been part of the Joni Mitchell Project, not to mention opening for Dylan and Robert Plant, being a contestant on The Voice wasn’t beneath her dignity. However, it has brought her exposure far beyond the folk circuit and, thank God, she didn’t win, so still has a healthy music career ahead of her. It has also served to prompt the re-issue of this, her sixth album. Originally released back in 2003, it was tragically overshadowed by her husband’s death and saw Barker largely retire from the scene for four years as she raised her children and took a Music Technology degree at de Montfort University. Although, after rejoining the band, she did appear on last The Poozies album, Yellow Like Sunshine, five years back, she’s not released anything under her own name for over a decade.

As well as boosting back catalogue sales, The Voice has also prompted this welcome reissue in the hope it will have wider exposure, especially with Barker now freer to promote it. Working with a line-up that includes Keith Buck, Paul Whyman, Phil Beer, Patsy Seddon and Sarah Alle, it balances the traditional influences of ‘Haul Away’ (a deportation ballad inspired by a book about female convicts sent to Australia), ‘The Ballad of Mary Rose’ (sung in the voice of one of Henry VIII’s sailors), and ‘The Farm’ (Debbie Cassell’s hauntingly desolate song of countryside plight on which Barker delivers a stunning unaccompanied intro) with the folk-rock sensibilities of ‘Fall From Grace’ (woman kills her deceitful lover), ‘Sirens’ (while acknowledging his courage, a firefighter’s wife has to leave because she’s unable to cope with the stress) and the rousing, celebratory title track in which Boudicea, Elizabeth I and Amy Johnson link verses.

Elsewhere, Steve Knightley’s ‘Captains’ (one of several songs referencing the sea) opens the album, the flute-laced ‘Comrades In Arms’ marries medieval notes and progressive folk in a part a capella lament of an Elizabeth wife whose husband returns from an Irish campaign a changed man, ‘Old Horses’ is a quietly reflective song of ageing and exhaustion given an added ache by Keith Buck’s pedal steel while, inspired by a couple who’d lost a child, ‘Bird’, with its madrigal lute, is a tender maternal fable about nurturing and letting go thematically complemented by ‘Sleep’s Descending’ gentle devotional lullaby to her two children.

In addition to making the original album available again, the reissue also, naturally, adds her two showpieces from the TV programme, both featuring her Joni Mitchell Project partner Glenn Hughes on keyboards, a folksy pop take on Olly Murs’ ‘Dear Darlin’’ and an impassioned version of the Bee Gees’ ‘To Love Somebody’ that rightly reduced Tom Jones to tears and will now doubtless prove the centrepiece of her live set for some time. Quite how far or how long the ripples from The Voice will spread remains to be seen, but even if, as with other contestants, it’s only a brief moment in the spotlight, Barker has nothing to prove, she’s been a star with a loyal following since she first stepped on a stage.

Mike Davies

Artist website