Songs Of The Week 2021: Take 4

Neil Morton


FEATURED SONG OF THE WEEK Bright Star: Anaïs Mitchell

Bright Star sounds as if it might be a Christmas single but the Anaïs Mitchell composition is one for all seasons. Our Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com will appear on her self-titled album due for release in late January. The album, her first solo offering since 2012’s Young Man In America, celebrates a reconnection with her roots in Vermont. When the pandemic struck New York, she was close to giving birth and decided to uproot to her late grandparents’ farmhouse where she had the baby a week later. ‘We were in the midst of this unprecedented stillness,’ she says. ‘I could see the stars for the first time in a long while. Bright Star is about looking back on years of restless pursuit and making peace with the source of that longing: the muse, the great unknown, the one that got away — those things that motivate us that we never can touch.’ Mitchell, whose band Bonny Light Horseman released a memorable album last year and whose collaboration with Big Red Machine was a more recent delight, was so consumed by the success of her Broadway musical Hadestown, a project born in Vermont in 2006 and the title of her 2010 album, she had time for little else. ‘I had to become so single-minded and put the blinders on to my other creative life.’ Bright Star is a poetic, Dylanesque ballad without a bridge or extended refrain. It doesn't need any gear shifts. Its lilting verses are enough, quietly building in intensity and enchantingly sung…

Bright star

I have sailed in all directions

I have followed your reflection

To the farthest foreign shore

Bright star, bright star I have anchored in the harbours I have brought my gifts to barter For a drifter’s bed and board The American reunites on the Josh Kaufman-produced album with members of her own band and friends Bon Iver and The National’s Aaron Dressler. After writing in the voice of other characters for so long, she is the narrator and the narrative. ‘It felt like after so many years working on telling other stories, now here are some of mine.’

Mitchell has since served up a second appetiser, switching to piano for the wistful Brooklyn Bridge, a delicate synth and sax decorated song for dreamers which might suit a future Broadway musical. ‘I wanna be someone/ Wanna be one in a million/ I wanna be the one you want.’ The one we want, that bright star.


The Sound: The Long Ryders

Alt country pioneers The Long Ryders, UK Americana International Trailblazer award winners for 2022, provide our Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com with The Sound, a celebration of the roots of their remarkable renaissance. The reflective track appears on their 2019 album Psychedelic Country Soul, whose title embraces the three genres they were renowned for in their 80s heyday. The Los Angeles band had been wooed back into the studio for their first record in 32 years. That sound, created by singer-guitarists and principal songwriters Sid Griffin and Stephen McCarthy, was inspired by their heroes The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Flying Burrito Brothers.

Friends would say when are you coming back, and I'd say down the road It never did occur to me the sound would be my home They were associated with a movement known as the Paisley Underground, their brand of country rock with a hard edge appearing to anticipate the Americana era by a decade. They disbanded in debt and disarray amid label problems in 1987 although there have been reunions since. This rebirth looks like lasting. The band’s name was borrowed from a movie, The Long Riders, but spelt differently for legal reasons, the use of ‘y’ a neat homage to The Byrds. Former Byrd Gene Clark added vocals to Ivory Tower on their debut album Native Sons in 1984. One critic described it as the finest song The Byrds never wrote. Their other two early albums, State Of Our Union and Two-Fisted Tales have been reissued and given the deluxe treatment. Ed Stasium, producer of 1987’s Two-Fisted Tales, was engaged again for the comeback record. Tom Petty was a friend and admirer and his memory is honoured by the only non-original among the 12 tracks, a cover of Walls. A new single, the political Down To The Well, was released recently, hinting strongly at a follow-up album.


Griffin, who has worked tirelessly to keep the band’s name alive, relocated to London after the break-up, forming bands such as Western Electric and the wonderfully titled Coal Porters and writing books on Gram Parsons and Bob Dylan. After the award ceremony in Hackney in January, the band, with instrumentalist award nominee Michele Stodart of The Magic Numbers sitting in on bass for lost comrade Tom Stevens, will play two shows at London’s Under The Bridge. The Long Ryders are back in the saddle. Their distinctive, jingle-jangle sound deserves a longer, less bumpy ride.

Day In The Sun: Susan Tedeschi & Derek Trucks

If Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks ever decide to release an acoustic or stripped-back album, we’ll be at the front of the shopping queue. Our Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com is Day In The Sun, their exquisite tribute to beloved songwriter Neal Casal.


Tedeschi-Trucks Band are one of the most exciting acts you’re likely to see, with their high-energy blend of Southern rock, blues, soul and jazz. Even in their quieter moments, such as their popular Fireside Sessions during the global shutdown, the quality of Tedeschi’s soul-soaked vocal and her husband’s extraordinary guitar virtuosity, befitting a former Allman Brothers hero, is not strained.


The cover is one of 41 on a five-LP or three-CD box set, Highway Butterfly: The Songs Of Neal Casal. The New Jersey native, who suffered from depression, took his own life at the age of 50 in 2019. He is honoured by a staggering cast of old friends and younger admirers during a musical memorial that lasts three hours 16 minutes.


A gifted singer-guitarist with an array of bands including The Cardinals, Circles Around The Sun, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Hard Working Americans, GospelbeacH and Hazy Malaze, Casal wrote Day In The Sun in 1995 for the first of his 14 solo albums, Fade Away Diamond Time. Melancholy sprinkled with hope; it would be a recurring theme for this prolific songwriter.


Casal would have been touched by the Tedeschi-Trucks interpretation of his message to a troubled friend – or was he talking to himself? ‘Even though tomorrow seems like such a long time/ Come down and give yourself another chance.’ Much of his back catalogue hovered under the radar at the time so Highway Butterfly could belatedly raise recognition and reinforce his legacy.


Two old cohorts co-produced this huge logistical exercise. Dave Schools, a bandmate in Hard Working Americans, and Jim Scott, at the dials for Casal’s debut album, recorded the tracks between February and December last year. There’s a companion podcast series too, guest artists sharing their memories of a lost friend who was curiously underappreciated. Proceeds benefit the Neal Casal Music Foundation which donates instruments to New Jersey and New York state schools and helps mental health organisations supporting musicians in need.


With Steve Earle in the driving seat for the title track, there are standouts aplenty in this expansive homage: Time Down The Wind (Hiss Golden Messenger), No One Above You (Marcus King and Eric Krasno), Feel No Pain (Leslie Mendelson), Free To Go (Warren Haynes), Detroit Or Buffalo (Jonathan Wilson and Hannah Cohen), Sweeten The Distance (Dori Freeman and Teddy Thompson). Casal’s alluring compositions deserve more days in the sun.


Ian Tasker on Layla, Eric Clapton and Tedeschi Trucks Band


Prodigal Daughter: Aoife O’Donovan (featuring Allison Russell)

The haunting Prodigal Daughter, our Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com, has the benefit of being delivered by not just one impassioned voice but two. Aoife O’Donovan has the perfect foil in Allison Russell.


The collaboration was the inspired idea of Joe Henry, producer of O’Donovan’s latest offering, Age Of Apathy, due for release in January. In fact it is one of three tracks enhanced by the achingly soulful harmonies of Russell, the Canadian-born songwriter with Grenadian and Scottish ancestry, whose own album Outside Child is a 2021 tour de force.


Prodigal Daughter, written by O’Donovan and Tim O’Brien, who contributes mandola here, tells the poignant tale of a mother and child reunion and attempted reconciliation after a seven-year hiatus with the added complication of a granddaughter in tow. The parable about rebellion, abandonment and forgiveness is sensitively recast.


The palpable tension and sense of guilt at play pull at the heart strings as the desperate daughter ‘like a lamb to the slaughter’ pleads…


I know forgiveness won’t come easy

Not for you

Look at the child upon my knee

She has eyes of blue

She resembles me resembling you


The track builds beautifully, and the way O’Donovan swoops low on the refrain to allow Russell to claim the higher register is exquisite. They close out the song with an echoing call and response with Russell having the last, anguished word – ‘she’s drowning in the pain’.


The Irish American singer began writing the album, her first studio work since 2016’s The Magic Hour, in the stillness of the pandemic, all contributors (including drummer Jay Bellerose and bassist David Piltch, O’Brien, Russell and fellow guest singer Madison Cunningham) relaying their parts remotely. O’Donovan was based at Winter Park, Florida’s Full Sail University, with engineer Darren Schneider as Henry worked his magic in Maine.


O’Donovan, whose music with Crooked Still and the trio I’m With Her (it’s time we saw them together again) has earned her a solid reputation, gave us a first glimpse of the new record with the atmospheric, Joni-esque Phoenix, another example of her talent for unorthodox melody. Here’s a stripped-down version of Prodigal Daughter played live at the Newport Folk Festival. Age Of Apathy? Sounds more like empathy.


Oak: Kris Drever (Spell Songs)

The climate change talking shop may turn out to be Not Much Cop26 but at least musicians of the Spell Songs project have reinforced the message about endangered natural beauty. Our Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com is Oak, singer-guitarist Kris Drever's homage to a treasured tree’s enduring magic.


The track, mellifluously sung by Drever, will appear on Spell Songs II: Let The Light In, due for release in December, also featuring Karine Polwart, Julie Fowlis, Seckou Keita, Rachel Newton, Beth Porter and Jim Molyneux. The musical collaboration was inspired by The Lost Words, a collection of spell-poems and watercolour illustrations by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris.


‘Rob and I started the lyric by exploring the number of uses that humans have now, and have had through time, for the oak’s timber,’ says the Orkney-born, Glasgow-based songwriter. ‘In the writing it left me with a real tangible idea of symbiosis; how far would we have got without this tree? Without ships, tools, ink, shelter, furniture, wheels, toys, cradles, caskets and so on.’


The wheel that makes the seasons turn

The beasts that shelter in the barn

This table that we sing around

And the casket we put in the ground


The theme of Spell Songs volume one was the reclaiming of words curiously omitted from the Oxford Junior Dictionary such as acorn, heron and kingfisher. Drever’s celebration of the dandelion in Scatterseed (‘the fallen star of the football field’) was beautiful. In Oak on volume two the kora player Seckou Keita’s incantation in his native Mandinka is translated by Drever: ‘Three hundred years to grow/ Three hundred more to thrive/ Three hundred years to die/ Nine hundred years alive.’


The captivating chorus gets to the heart of the matter:


The poplar is the whispering tree

And the rowan is the sheltering tree

The willow is the weeping tree

And the oak is waiting


The fragility of nature is also highlighted Kate Ellis’s engaging Wonderland, an advance track from her forthcoming album Spirals. Yorgo Lykouria’s video captures the alliance between Ellis and contemporary artist Geraldine van Heemstra of the Wilderness Art Collective. Together, they aim to shake us from our lethargy over environmental issues and add volume to the rallying cry for change.

The track was inspired by a walk in a city park when the Louisiana-born, London-based songwriter witnessed flashes of how alive, powerful and beautiful nature is and how indivisibly connected we are. ‘Wonderland is about how perceiving nature in a viscerally connected way gives us a deeper appreciation of it and a deeper sense of loss for what we’re putting at risk. Geraldine’s artwork is the perfect visual expression of the song.’


A willow weeps into her cup

And sees her fields turn to dust

The trees that stalk me from all sides

With eyes of a hundred fireflies


A dead oak frozen like a lightning strike

Autumn colour like God’s own bonfire light

And a crown of leaves

Weighing down on me


My heart’s aching

Every inch of me is shaking

To see the beauty that we’re breaking

Our wonderland


Copies of Van Heemstra’s sketchbook of watercolour paintings and charcoal drawings have been passed to delegates at Cop26 along with a link to the video of Ellis’s impassioned vocal and a letter to world leaders from the pair. They call it their message in a bottle: ‘Like many people around the world, we are scared and sad about what is happening to our environment. This project is a way to process and reflect these feelings… This is our contribution to the growing chorus urging you to be brave, and to take the necessary action to respect and protect our environment.’


Returning to Spell Songs, Drever wonders if the oak is waiting for us to come to our senses. Hot air is a problem in more ways than one. As Neil Young and Joni Mitchell warned us in the Seventies, mother nature’s on the run, and you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Without genuine action, the words of fine songs will be as wasted as those in Glasgow. We cannot afford another Cop-out.


Kid Fears: Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit (with Brandi Carlile & Julien Baker)

How’s this for a potent mix: Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit, Brandi Carlile, Julien Baker and the writing of The Indigo Girls. Our Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com is Kid Fears, a haunting cover version of The Indigo Girls’ 1989 classic.


The track appears on Georgia Blue, a covers collection that Isbell pledged on Election Day 2020 if the Peach State flipped in favour of the Democrats. Georgia implausibly turned Biden blue, and Isbell was as good as his tweet, with proceeds aiding charitable initiatives. Kid Fears, with Carlile’s stunning vibrato to the fore, holds the trump card.


The Indigo Girls’ melancholic composition, a glimpse into the dark corners of childhood, was a standout on their eponymous second studio album and featured fellow Georgia native Michael Stipe, R.E.M. frontman, who has found a devotee in Isbell. Carlile and Baker take the parts of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers with Isbell in the Stipe role.


Pain from pearls, hey little girl

How much have you grown?

Pain from pearls, hey little girl

Flowers for the ones you’ve known


Are you on fire

From the years?

What would you give for your

Kid fears?

Songwriter Amy Ray explained in a 1989 interview: ‘Kid Fears is about the difficulty of growing up, getting into a world where people know where your hiding places are and what your secrets are. In the third verse when I say Skipping stones/ We know the price now, that’s about the music industry. I used the image of skipping stones because the flatter and smoother the stone is, the better it skips and the more spin you put on it the further it goes. When I say smooth, I’m talking about being polished and dressing right.


‘When I say Any sin will do, there’s a lot of things you can do to get further in the industry, and a lot of them are sins to me, because they are compromises. I stick to principles too much. I have a really short temper and tend to be outspoken. Somebody says you’ll change your mind when the pay cheques start rolling in, but I’m never going to change.’


When Isbell tweeted his idea, Carlile was first to respond. The Indigo Girls, as she explains in her piercingly honest memoir Broken Horses, have been a huge influence on her – for their music and their LGBTQ activism – along with Dolly Parton, Tanya Tucker, John Prine, Elton John, Joni Mitchell and her lockdown friends, the songwriting twins Tim and Phil Hanseroth.


All 13 Georgia Blue tracks are Isbell favourites, embracing blues, R&B, soul and Southern rock, and were originally recorded by artists closely associated with Georgia if not actually born there. Two delicious R.E.M. songs bookend the album, Nightswimming, with Béla Fleck on banjo and Chris Thile on mandolin, and Driver 8, with John Paul White providing harmonies.


The splendidly soulful Brittney Spencer links up for James Brown’s It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World and the Gladys Knight & The Pips hit Midnight Train To Georgia (originally titled Midnight Plane To Houston by writer Jim Weatherly). Adia Victoria impresses with her reimagining of Precious Bryant’s The Truth while Isbell’s wife and bandmate Amanda Shires elevates Cat Power’s Cross Bones Style with pulsating, swampy fiddle. Our magnanimous Alabama-born host, who takes the lead on only six tracks, offers a stirring version of Otis Redding’s I’ve Been Loving You Too Long while reminding us throughout how fine a guitarist he is.


Carlile’s latest album In These Silent Days, written like her memoir during the pandemic, has earned high praise. Kid Fears would have felt at home there.


Angel In The Alleyways: Dion (with Patti Scialfa & Bruce Springsteen)

Dion’s music is as enduring as his beloved blues. Our Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com is the gospel-coated Angel In The Alleyways, a collaboration with Patti Scialfa and her husband Bruce Springsteen.


The slow-building blues rocker will appear on Stomping Ground, the elder statesman’s sequel to last year’s Blues With Friends. The Dion diMucci Co-operative features alliances with Joe Bonamassa, Boz Scaggs, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Peter Frampton, Billy F Gibbons, Keb’ Mo’, Sonny Landreth, Marcia Ball, Jimmy Vivino, GE Smith, Ricky Lee Jones, co-producer Wayne Hood and father and son guitarists Joe and Mike Menza.


The song, co-written by old cohort and author Mike Aquilina, reflects the New Yorker’s abiding faith, as does the video shot in an 11th century Spanish monastery shipped in sections to Miami where it was rebuilt in the 1950s. Patti and Bruce zoomed in their parts from their home studio in New Jersey.


We love the track’s acknowledgement of the gifts of guitar greats…


An angel walks

An angel prays

By your side at night unseen in the alleyways

Who guides the hand that comes to play

Like BB King and Stevie Ray

Who takes the pain we didn’t choose

Turns it into Chicago blues


Dion praises Scialfa for the track’s compelling arrangement - she and Springsteen had accompanied Dion on the powerful Hymn To Him on Blues With Friends. ‘Everything you hear – that’s all her. I gave Patti a simple, raw demo with just my guitar and vocal. There are five verses and she treated each of them in a unique way. This is her gift. The lady’s imagination is unlimited. Her husband contributed the right tones on guitar and harmonica. They are my dream team. They truly make me feel loved.’


Angel In The Alleyways is the third advance single on the heels of I’ve Got To Get To You, featuring Scaggs and the Menzas, and Take It Back with Bonamassa on licks and tricks. The only non-original track on the album, which is due for release on November 19, is a cover of the Jimi Hendrix classic Red House, featuring Keb’ Mo’. We’ve been here before: Dion followed his 1968 hit Abraham, Martin And John with a reworking of Purple Haze.


In his foreword to the liner notes Pete Townshend says: ‘Dion, like a circling star that never fades, generates the energy and fire we need to pull ourselves up and start again… He looks at his watch every few years: Damn, let’s make a record!’ Dion himself adds: ‘To make music with friends, and to make friends through music: I can’t imagine a better life than this. I am grateful to my friends who made Stomping Ground with me – and my new friends who are listening.’


The Wanderer, a musical based on his life and music, will stage its world pre-Broadway première in New Jersey in March next year with Michael Wartella (Wicked) starring as Dion. The man himself, big in the Sixties, is still relevant in his eighties.


Phil Shaw on My Girls The Month Of May by Dion & The Belmonts


Ian Malin on Abraham, Martin And John


Blame: Gabriels

Gabriels, the Los Angeles-based trio with an angel as mouthpiece, provide our Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com with a celestial new single, Blame, the title track of their forthcoming second EP. Mystery and magnificence in 2min 50sec.


Jacob Lusk’s lush vocal manages to embrace soul, gospel, doo-wop, funk, R&B, jazz, Nina Simone-style work song and Broadway musical. He is backed by two multi-instrumentalist producers, fellow Californian Ari Balouzian and Sunderland-born Ryan Hope. The band is named after St Gabriels Avenue where Hope grew up.


After drip-feeding singles to a burgeoning audience hungry for more, Gabriels have sold-out shows at The Social in London this weekend and will support Celeste on her tour next year. There are nods to the greats of most genres by these self-proclaimed perfectionists. The arrangement of Blame, with its cinematic flourishes and dramatic changes (wait for the kettle drum), is stunning.


Lusk, who was raised in an apostolic church and was discouraged from listening to secular music until his father introduced him to jazz, explains the lyric: ‘When examining our life’s problems, we hastily assign blame. Our song seeks to examine the construct of not only fault and shame but take a deep dive into the world of addiction, and indulgence.’


Not a slave if I’m already free

Not a captive if it’s where I want to be

Oo La La La La La

Then the crowd calls

Oo La La La La La

Who’s gonna catch me when I fall down


Battles won and battles lost

I can’t numerate the costs

I’ve lost


Film-maker Hope told NME how the band was formed: ‘Ari and I were scoring a commercial one day when Jacob came in for an audition and blew me away. I heavily stalked him for a bit. It’s a unique thing when you have somebody who can sing like that, a one in a million chance to meet someone who can do it.’ Lusk added: ‘A couple of days later they showed up at my church and set up a remote studio in the choir room and we just clicked. We’re very different but we have these similarities. It’s the biggest blessing in my life.


‘I grew up in a very religious home where I was not allowed to listen to the radio. Nat King Cole I knew of, but I didn’t know Motown. I knew Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston because they did a little gospel, but that was all. So yeah, it was a dream I had, but I threw it away because I didn’t look at it as a possibility. And now, looking back, I know I always wanted to do something like this, but I didn’t know how.’


Lusk, a choir director in Compton and a former American Idol contestant, gripped a Black Lives Matter march with an impromptu version of Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit, a song his mother made him listen to when he was young. ‘It was Breonna Taylor’s birthday, and they asked me to sing Happy Birthday. I felt like I needed to get up to speak… They handed me the megaphone and I sang the song. I understand that my voice is the sound of my ancestors, of my friends who have passed – they are all in my vocal chords. It’s an unfortunate thing that we’re still experiencing this. No, we’re not being lynched in secret anymore, we’re being lynched in public by police officers.’


Last year’s irresistible single Love And Hate In A Different Time, with its bow to I Heard It Through The Grapevine, set the template for music of subtlety and grandeur. Elton John described it as ‘one of the most seminal records I've heard in years’. Phil Shaw on this website named it his Song Of The Year, calling it ‘an extraordinary song for momentous times’. You wouldn’t blame him if history repeated itself.


Fisherman’s Blues: Dawes

Fisherman’s Blues, a re-release of a cover of the wonderful Waterboys track by Los Angeles band Dawes, is our Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com. Founder of The Waterboys Mike Scott describes it as gorgeous: ‘Love, love, love this version.’


Written by Edinburgh-born Scott and Irish violinist Steve Wickham, Fisherman’s Blues was the title track of the folk-rock band’s best-selling fourth studio album in 1988. Taylor Goldsmith, Dawes’ lead singer, decided to dig deeper into their back catalogue after belatedly falling in love with The Whole Of The Moon. ‘It was that very special adolescent feeling of coming across something that speaks to you and for you.’


After reading Scott’s autobiography, Goldsmith ended up playing Fisherman’s Blues at a Dawes rehearsal one day in 2015. ‘It’s the only cover we’ve done that felt like it was ours. Covers can sometimes just feel approximations or hat tips. This felt like we created something that belonged to us.’


More than a tip of the hat to the underrated songwriting brilliance of Scott. His unmistakable vocal, attractively razor-edged, cannot be replicated so Dawes give the track an imaginatively fresh feel, more Laurel Canyon than exuberant folk.


As was the case when they first released the single in 2016, all proceeds from the reissue go to Nothing But Nets, a campaign aimed at eradicating malaria throughout the world. ‘We are obviously indebted to The Waterboys’ masterful version,’ says Goldsmith. ‘It felt like we found something that could sit well next to any of our songs on a setlist.’


Taylor’s shimmering guitar and fine vocal, driven by brother Griff’s accomplished drumming, set the mood...


I wish I was a fisherman

Tumblin’ on the seas

Far away from dry land

And its bitter memories

Castin’ out my sweet line

With abandonment and love

No ceiling bearin’ down on me

Save the starry sky above


With light in my head

With you in my arms


I wish I was the brakeman

On a hurtlin’ fevered train

Crashin’ headlong into the heartland

Like a cannon in the rain

With the feelin’ of the sleepers

And the burnin’ of the coal

Countin’ the towns flashin’ by

And a night that’s full of soul


With light in my head

With you in my arms


The quartet – named after the Goldsmith brothers’ grandfather – is completed by Wylie Gelber on bass and Lee Pardini on keyboards. Guitarist Duane Betts, son of Dickey Betts of Allman Brothers fame, was a member of Dawes’ touring line-up in 2015, trading electricity with Goldsmith. The Waterboys are still touring… and still playing their swashbuckling original. Encore, encore.


Gareth Williams on The Whole of the Moon


Dinosaur Bones: Emily Barker

Emily Barker’s A Dark Murmuration Of Words is the album that keeps on giving. Dinosaur Bones was the first track to be laid down but didn’t make the final cut. Spoiled for choice, no doubt. It will surely make the next one and is our Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com.


It was recorded back in November 2019 at StudiOwz, a converted chapel in Pembrokeshire. Western Australian exile Barker shares the writing credits with Ted Barnes who composed the hypnotic hook in the verses at a songwriting workshop many years ago. Barker, leafing through a batch of old material, unearthed that buried treasure of a melody, fleshed out the riff and crafted a typically poetic lyric.


The song was inspired by her parents’ move from her childhood home, a small farm near the Blackwood river, into a house in town where boxes and old suitcases were kept for her in a wardrobe. One belonged to her grandfather in which she found her first ever journal, a Christmas present from mum and dad when she was eight. She is still writing those journals.


Barker, who moved to England in 2002, says: ‘Sifting through the souvenirs made me think about the footprints we leave behind... how much of ourselves we share through stories passed on to younger generations, and what remains of us after we’re gone. It made me reflect on my grandparents and parents and how much I don’t know – just snippets from stories – memories that fragment the more I try to remember. Isn’t it interesting too, how we add to those fragments over time, how we flesh them out? Like finding dinosaur bones, then draw the muscles, sketch the skin, add the meaning.’


That last sentence references the song in which her vocal is as alluring as the melody:


Turning pages down a street where time is standing still

Searching through old photographs for emptiness to fill

I was thinking of my grandparents and a past I wish I’d known

And how we alter the story, with each telling that gets told


All the ways we print ourselves in sedimentary stone

Draw the muscles, sketch the skin, add the meaning


A refrain that evokes the songwriting process as much as the accumulation of memories. The flickering, lovingly restored video accompanying Dinosaur Bones, directed by film-maker Tori Styles, revisits a double wedding in Rotterdam in 1949 when two sisters married two brothers; one of the couples was her grandparents. Barker has bouts of homesickness, as evidenced by her collaboration with Frank Turner on Bound For Home, so will cherish her gigs in Australia next month.


A Dark Murmuration Of Words, whose The Woman Who Planted Trees is a former Song Of The Week on this website, should have found a home for Dinosaur Bones. Or are we just being greedy? The ubiquitous Lukas Drinkwater, Barker’s husband, contributes double bass and atmospheric electric guitar, the band completed by Pete Roe (keys), Rob Pemberton (drums and synth) and Misha Law and Emily Hall (strings). The song, released as a single, is described by Drinkwater as one of her finest. No bones about it.









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