Marry Waterson & Emily Barker - A Window to Other Ways - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Marry Waterson & Emily Barker - A Window to Other Ways

by Bill Golembeski Rating:9 Release Date:2019-03-29
Marry Waterson & Emily Barker - A Window to Other Ways
Marry Waterson & Emily Barker - A Window to Other Ways

I spent most of my high school math existence at the lousy test score wrong end of the teacher’s comment,” Aren’t you that smart kid’s brother?” I was always much more comfortable with Great Expectations of the Charles Dickens design.

Well, sure, and although the Waterson name does open British folk doors, it’s also weighted with those heavy (and yeah, great) expectations. I bought the very nice Marry Waterson & Oliver Knight album Hidden simply on the folk lineage.

 It’s nice to say that this one, Marry’s joint effort with Australian singer Emily Barker, jumps the broomstick with air to spare. This is a really great folk album sends tendrils to rock and soul music.

Now, approach this with patience. The first tune, “A Window to Other Ways,” is slow and eerie with Marry’s lyrics and Emily’s music brushed with producer Adem Ilhan’s cello. It echoes the somber work of June Tabor. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the record is more expansive. The second song, “Perfect Needs,” ups the tempo and is, folk rock deluxe. Rob Pemberton’s drums propel the music which is melodic, urgent, and laced with wonderous backing vocals. And then there is “Little Hits of Dopamine,” which is dramatic with dual-voiced banjo depth. And the clever title is a wormhole ride away from traditional titles like “Death and the Lady,” “Little Sir Hugh,” or “The Trees They Do Grow High.” I don’t believe Cecil Sharp ever mentioned dopamine.

By the way (and oh my), does Marry’s voice emulate the dramatic timber of both her mother Lal and (the great) Linda Thompson. No finger pointing is necessary here. This music simply shakes welcome hands with talented peers and famous relatives.

And that’s a good segue into those welcome handshakes. The Waterson’s Frost and Fire is a brilliant seasonal tribute to Britain’s ritual and magic. And then, of course, Lal and  brother Mike’s Bright Phoebus is the miracle album of self-penned songs that pretty much showcases the English folk talent of the day: Richard Thompson, Ashley Hutchings, Maddy Prior, Tim Hart, Dave Mattacks, and, of course, (the great) Martin Carthy who had married into the family. Lots of hands to shake with that mob! Thank you very much Domino Records for its much-needed recent reissue. And, finally, Lal and sister Norma’s A True Hearted Girl is a nice collection of traditional tunes with a very young Maris (aka Marry) on vocals.

Ah, but this is wonderful folk music. A thumb piano introduces “All Is Well.” Again, this song pulses well beyond that eerie initial tune. And the same is true for “We Don’t Speak Anytime.” This is lovely heart-felt music that crumbles like a McVitie’s Digestive. And I love those biscuits, musical crumbs and all. Then “Drinks Two and Three” is slow and beautiful. Marry and Emily exchange lead vocals, and this is the magic of their slow dance of a sound.

As said, this is a very modern folk record that scurries all over the spectrum.  “I’m Drawn” is, again, dual-voiced and banjo plucked, It’s beautiful. “Twister” is cut from the same cloth. An acoustic guitar frames the song while the two voices touch musical Nirvana. “Disarm” is a brief tune with Emily Barker’s one lyric and the soul sound of the record.  This jazzy-blues continues with the Lukas Drinkwater’s deep bass and Emily’s sultry vocals of “Trick of the Light” which is, indeed, a long way from any Flowers of the Forest in British folk song. And, “It Will be Good” is plaintive piano tune which, ironically drips with dreamy sadness. “Going Dark” slows the pace even more with soul-rendered sincerity.

There’s a famous old chestnut of a song called “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” And this album proves that, yes indeed, the folk tradition continues to flow through some aged circumference, a circle of handshakes, pressed one hand to another, that begins with the spark of something quite rare and very old, and then, oddly enough, arrives at that very same unbroken destination.

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