Dedicated to the late founding member and family patriarch, Lenny Barker, The Barker Band’s sixth album The Land We Hold Dear honours him both by upping the banjo ante and with the poignant, melancholically understated Don’t Fear The End, written in the wake of his passing and featuring the line “I think it said it all when I held his hand” .
The inspiration for the album per se, which features 15 tracks (16 if you count the 50 second intro to the banjo bubbling bluegrass Wandering Girl), was to write songs based on the folk traditions that have influenced the band over the years, kicking off with the two part The Fishing Song, the first foregrounding Nella Johnson’s voice over a muted drone before picking up the tempo or a shanty tale of a cursed fishing boat on which they’re joined by Norway’s six piece Storm Weather Shanty Choir, who also make a second appearance on the album’s penultimate track, the six minute Appalachian-tinged ballad Leave My Bonny.
The influence of bluegrass and mountain music feeds into several tracks, most evident on the sprightly banjo picked and fiddle fuelled murder ballad Polly, but you’ll also hear Zydeco on the accordion romping Cry, Cry, Cry and an Eastern hint filtering into the hypnotic Holy Word while, featuring The Ramshackle Union, the steady marching beat Didn’t Leave For Sea has a traditional folk blues tone and a definite hint of Richard Thompson to the vocals.
The overall mood is, perhaps not surprisingly, sober, heading into particularly dark corners with the trad folk infused Cut Up His Face with its spooked mandolin accompaniment, melodrama fiddle riff and obsession themed lyrics as Johnson sings about slashing her faithless man’s face so “women will love him no more”, the price love exacts also at the heart on the slow waltzing Metals & Stones. Yet, such is the band’s assured and light touch, and the beauty of Johnson’s voice, that it’s never oppressive, the Celtic-flavoured instrumental Our Farewell (surely a parting salute to Lenny), closes the album with its acoustic guitar, mandolin accordion and whistle strikes a note of dusk over the hills and soul cleansing. It’s already on the Telegraph’s list of the top folk albums of 2015; it should be on yours too.
Review by: Mike Davies
The Barker Band. You Took The Best Of Me Live
The Land We Hold Dear is Out Now via BB Records
Order via Amazon