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Sally Barker - Ghost Girl (Old Dog Records)
Sally Barker has a long and varied career in Music. Eighties Folk fans will remember her first two solo albums and the infectious Money's Talking and This Rhythm Is Mine. A connection through the recording of the THIS RHYTHM IS MINE album led to the formation of The Poozies a folk four piece and a series of fine albums. More recently alongside a rekindled association with The Poozies, Sally has continued to record her own albums, made a huge impression on Tom Jones on The Voice, fronted a reformed Fotheringay and lived a life. GHOST GIRL is full of real emotion, sometimes intoxicatingly beautiful sometimes shot through with a compelling dark beauty but always compelling. The arrangements are deceptively smooth and hummable but like rocks below the surface there is always more to listen for, a depth, a power. Easy listening this is not.
Emperor of Cool is driven by a desire for retribution, with a wonderful tension between the sweet delivery and the bitterness of the lyric. Cool folk jazz fades into I'm Not Whole a tale of lost love. Sally Barker's finely strummed acoustic is joined by a perfectly phrased electric guitar played by her son Dillon Harold Thomas. Like Sugar is another song built around a beautiful tension. There is a folk tale narrative around a woman's temptation while her husband is away fighting. She battles with loneliness, poverty and barbed gifts from a local man. The Jack Johnson like languid acoustic suits Barker's vocal perfectly. An otherworldly pedal steel lays behind the beach campfire vibe creating depth. There is a darkness in the chorus and Georgia Harrup's counterpoint vocal, suggesting that behind the sweetness the singer craves, there is always going to be betrayal as hollow as the man’s eyes. An early highlight on a charged album. Ghost Girl is another folk jazz ballad and a rearrangement of a song originally written for The Poozies' INTO THE WELL album. The tension created between the song's jaunty pop bounce and the spat out lyric, the lightness of touch on the piano and the raw emotion of Baker’s vocal is a real strength. Even before you've heard the story play out, the betrayal and bitterness in the voice is compelling.
Vampire of Love following on, with a minimal strummed acoustic and brushed piano is all about the vocals. Everything is given room to breathe, you can hear the space around each element. Every perfect nuance and vocal inflection hangs in the air. Her piano parts hang in the air like the minimal 50s jazz of Bill Evans. Again the second vocalist, this time Lee Glasson, wraps around her voice, distinctly different but acting like a perfect foil. There is a richness in the detail of the writing too, names like Sally Mae and Vicky November are so evocative. The songs drips with metaphors as Barker sings about love, Bram Stoker's Victorian Dracula and the dark total surrender of attraction. So much of the appeal of Barker and the characters she creates is that everything she does she does completely and with absolute abandon. Hand of Fate is a warmer proposition, the questioning lyric buoyed by a funky keyboard and a bright slide guitar part. But still the rich writing serves up a darkness to contract the light of the music. Two Hearts is a Dylanesque lullaby, a beautiful hymn after loss and pain and another album highlight. If there was such a thing as a last dance at a wedding where songs of weight that told of permanence were played this would be perfect.
Queen Of Reckless Feelings is a funky classic, another track of contrasts with a dark lyric carried on a stuttering waw waw guitar, double bass and a snappy rhythm. Tell It Like It Is celebrates that contrast and the pursuit of truth over comfort with Sally at her best, the voice over an acoustic guitar. Canada like Vampire Of Love showcases Barker's song writing and ability to occupy a moment in history. The song was inspired by the mass emigration to Canada the early 1800's. Sally's vocal channels the hardship of those British travellers searching for a better life. The last words on the album, over a arresting guitar refain 'there must be a better life', take a wider significance to Sally, with all that has gone before. The album closes with a mournful reprise of the title tracks melody on piano. But that voice, the lyrics and the songs resonate long after, so you play it again and again. Sweet and Sour, Salted Caramel, the sun and the rain, we like contrasts. We don’t really like it easy and straightforward we want depth we want layers, that is very much the appeal of Sally Barker.