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Barker Band - The Land We Hold Dear

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 5 / 7 / 2015

Barker Band - The Land We Hold Dear
Label: Barker Band
Format: CD


West London’s the Barker Band return after a two year pause, taken after the passing of founder member Lenny Barker, father to Jake and Sam who dedicate their latest collection of songs to the man who inspired them to make music

It’s incredible that The Barker Band has just released its sixth album, ‘The Land We Hold Dear’ and is still not more widely known. Like so many bands/artists at the moment the fact that they have been grouped into the folk genre is maybe restricting their popularity. There appears to be so many bands and solo artists currently grouped into the folk category who, although taking a major part of their inspiration from traditional folk, have expanded on that sound so much that at times the folk tag is doing more damage than good. Of course the Barker Band are steeped in the folk music of yore but, as with almost every folk-inspired artist that has come this way this year, they have also injected their own musical vision into this age-old music to make it attractive to newer ears while not forsaking any of the old values. ‘The Land That We Hold Dear’ is dedicated to Lenny Barker who sadly passed away before this album was completed and who was an original member of the Barker Band and father to Jake and Sam who, after taking a two year pause after their sad loss, decided to make a tribute album to the man who was a huge inspiration to them. One of the songs, ‘Don’t Fear the End’, was written in honour of Lenny. Apart from Lenny’s guitar and harmonies on some of the tracks and the already mentioned twins Jake and Sam who play banjo, mandolin and sing, the Barker Band for this recording is Nella Johnson who takes lead vocals, Laurie Sherman on lead guitar, bassist Tom Wright, drummer Rupert Shreeve and Simon Cohen who plays the fiddle. The album was recorded entirely in analog at Soup Studios in London by Simon Trout and which no doubt helped create the warm, natural sound that surround these songs. Roping in the Storm Weather Shanty Choir from Norway for backing vocals on two songs reinforces preconceived ideas of how the Barker Band should sound, but ‘Leave My Bonny’ and ‘The Fishing Song Part 2’, the two tracks which feature the six-piece shanty band, are far from what you’d expect. While the songs may well be inspired by sea shanties, they can be enjoyed and appreciated by those who usually wouldn’t get within listening distance of such songs. It’s not until the closing section of ‘Leave My Bonny’ that any thoughts of a traditional sea shanty really enter the mind. Up until that point it’s hard to put any kind of label on that particular song. The band expertly combine strands of so many different genres into that one song. While their folk roots do shine proudly through both songs, it’s the blend of different styles which makes the music so compelling. The same can also be said of ‘The Fishing Song Part 2’, whereas Part 1 of that song, with Nella Johnson’s pure vocals shining through the drone and wringing every last speck of emotion from each line is set in a more traditional folk setting. ‘Cut Up His Face’ features another remarkable vocal performance from Johnson. It’s debatable if the mandolin has ever sounded so chilling on a song, with Johnson singing “as she cut up his face so he’d be disgraced/Pretty women will love him no more” one can’t help but feel some compassion for the unfaithful soul in question. ‘Metals & Stones’ is another in the same vein, a powerful vocal from Johnson that is matched by the atmospheric music the band slowly builds behind her. It’s difficult to listen to ‘Don’t Fear the End’ without thinking of why the song was written. For anyone who has lost someone close, and it doesn’t have to be a father, those feelings of loss and hopelessness will return, but as with all good music that touches us in some way there’s comfort there. Although there’s no direct mention that the closing track, ‘Our Farewell’ was also written in tribute to Lenny it surely must be the case. This instrumental conjures up so perfectly the final goodbye of a loved one; drenched in accordion, mandolin, and acoustic guitar, it’s a fitting tribute to a life and also the perfect way to end this album. While they cover all the usual themes that traditional folk music is expected to - ‘Polly’ is the expected murder ballad for example - for every accepted nod to folk there are two twists and turns that you’d never expect. ‘The Land We Hold Dear’ has already been listed on the 'The Daily Telegraph' list for top folk albums of 2015 the Barker Band proudly proclaim on their Facebook page. Guys, that’s only half the story as this album goes way beyond the usual folk genre.

Track Listing:-
1 The Fishing Song Part 1
2 The Fishing Song Part 2
3 You Took the Best of Me
4 Holy Word
5 Didn't Leave for Sea
6 Follow Old Love Around
7 Don't Fear the End
8 Wandering Girl Intro
9 Wandering Girl
10 Polly
11 Cry, Cry, Cry
12 Take My Love
13 Cut up His Face
14 Metals & Stones
15 Leave My Bonny
16 Our Farewell

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