Feeling blue is the sweetest thing for Emily Barker's new album

She may have made her name as a folk performer, but releasing a blues and soul album actually represents something of a musical homecoming for Emily Barker.

Wednesday, 31st May 2017, 7:12 pm
Updated Sunday, 4th June 2017, 9:12 pm
Emily Barker performing at the Castle Road Fair on Record Store Day, 2017. Picture by Keith Woodland

Her new album Sweet Kind Of Blue sees Emily quite emphatically leave behind her old band Red Clay Halo.

‘The sound is very much of the place where it was recorded, Memphis in Tennessee,’ says Emily.

‘I actually grew up listening to lots of blues and soul music and that’s what first inspired me to start singing – listening to people like Aretha Franklin.

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‘I have a blues festival in my hometown (in Australia), Bridgetown Blues Fest, and as a teenager that was the music that we all wanted to play so we could get a gig at the festival.

‘Suddenly all the teenagers learned how to play music and it was quite natural that that music was soul and blues, so for me it was like coming full circle to go to Memphis and making an album that sounds like this.’

To this writer’s ears, the album is reminiscent of Cat Power’s brilliant album The Greatest – which pleases Emily when she’s told.

‘Rick Steff, who was the musical director on Cat Power’s The Greatest, played on my album too,’ she says.

‘It came about through the producer, Matt Ross-Spang, and working with Matt came about through me doing some recording in Nashville. I was putting the word out there to see if people could recommend me an up-coming producer who in a couple of years is going to be untouchable, and everyone kept saying “Matt Ross-Spang”. I was put in touch, I emailed him and he listened to my stuff and was really keen.

‘I sent him demos and he could hear this bit of blues and soul in it, so the conversation started there and ended in Memphis with us making the record we really wanted to make.’

And there was no messing around in the studio – the whole album was laid down in a mere four days.

‘We did all 10 songs direct to tape in four days, and they hadn’t even heard anything before that – I would play them the song on my guitar or at the piano and then they all took it and learned the chords. Memphis is all about the groove – we’d find the groove and hit record, it all happened very naturally, they were such a great team of people to work with, it felt right.’

On the writing side Emily worked with cult English singer-songwriter Boo Hewerdine.

‘I’ve known Boo for about 12 years. I first met him in Cambridge when I first came over from Australia, and my band then, The Low Country, supported Boo and I was blown away by his songwriting.

‘It took me another 10 years to pluck up the courage to ask him to write with me. But he said “yes” and we ended up writing three of the songs together, and we’re definitely planning to do more. I’ve done a lot of co-writing, and it’s rare that you hit it off with someone so absolutely.’ Although Emily won’t be able to play live with the musicians who recorded the album, she has put together a new team that she’s rather pleased with.

‘I’ve got a really hot band – Pete Roe, he’s done a lot of work with Laura Marling and that sort of crowd, he plays keys, and his roots are jazz and blues, the bassist is Lukas Drinkwater, and the drummer is Rob Pemberton, and they’re all very diverse musicians so they can definitely handle the new material, but we also do quite a bit of the old material.

‘My last album Dear River was heading more towards rock/Americana anyway, so it’s really cool – I can do the band stuff with them, or just play solo.’

This current tour, though, is a low-key trip around England’s independent record shops,

‘The next few weeks I’m going to playing lots of record stores – it’s going to be very intimate, most of them don’t even have a PA system so it’s going to be mostly just me and for a lot of them with my bass player.’

Pie & Vinyl, Southsea

Wednesday, May 31

Hundred Records, Romsey

Saturday, June 3