Americana U.K. Artist of the Year Emily Barker literally parked her camper van in Kilkenny to perform at Cleere’s, on her whistle stop tour of Ireland, which also saw her play shows in Waterford, Dublin, Galway, Belfast and Limivady. Joined on stage by the talented Lukas Drinkwater on upright bass and electric guitar, her set covered material from her early career Red Clay Halo days up to her current soulful classic album Sweet Kind Of Blue, which was recorded at Sam Phillips Recording Service in Memphis Tennessee last year.
Concentrating on material from her earlier albums for the first half of her set, she opened with Little Deaths and the title track of her 2013 release Dear River, before performing Nostalgia, the theme song she composed for the BBC TV hit show Wallander. Blackbird from her live 2015 album The Toerag Sessions followed. Despite being somewhat under the weather her stage presence was particularly engaging, with tales of camper van travels and the luxury of a possible shower somewhere on the road. She also joked that she takes some credit for introducing the Father Ted sitcom to some of her fellow Australians while touring there. Whereas Barker's early career output concentrated on the more folk/Americana side of things, her current and delightful album Sweet Kind Of Blue recalls her inspiration and love of soul music as a teenager. The instrumentation and production on the album are phenomenal, not surprising given that it was produced by Matt Ross-Spang and included the cream of Memphis session players on the recording. Performing the material from the album stripped back may have presented a challenge but she rose to the occasion flawlessly and passed with flying colours. Performed in succession were No.5 Hurricane, the simply divine Sister Goodbye- dedicated to the Godmother of rock and roll Sister Rosetta Tharp - and equally impressive Over My Shoulder– co-written with Boo Hewerdine and inspired by the horrific newspaper image of a dead refugee child face down on a beach. She also included More! from the same album in its initial stripped back format, a dreamy slow version before it got ‘souled and Motowned up’ in the studio for the catchy album version.
She closed the show with Anywhere Away,which she wrote for Jack Gavin’s film Hector and the gorgeous Precious Memories and The Blackwood from her Red Clay Halo days. The evening was further evidence of the limitless talents of Emily Barker, a young lady always prepared to challenge herself and never likely to stand in the same musical spot for very long.
Opening act, The Remedy Club are no strangers to Lonesome Highway or indeed to Cleeres’s, where they performed their own showcase gig only a few weeks previously. Husband and wife duo Aileen Mythen and Kieran McEvoy have been impressing us at Lonesome Highway over the past few years, establishing themselves as the leading exponents of Americana in Ireland. They met with Emily Barker while performing at The Americana Awards U.K. earlier in the year and were invited to support her on this tour. The perfect act to warm the crowd up in the cosy intimate setting, their set included Listenin’ To Hank Williams, When Tom Waits Upand a rousing finale of Big Ol’ Fancy, all from their current album Lovers, Legends and Lost Causes.
Review and photographs by Declan Culliton