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Sally Barker Sally Barker
Album: Ghost Girl
Label: Old Dog
Tracks: 12

Released in February 2017, to coincide with Sally's stint as support act on Fairport Convention's 50th Anniversary tour, this album is the follow up to 2003's Maid in England (previously reviewed at Fatea).

The current album stands out for some obvious reasons: Sally is a true professional, with a wide experience, great ability as a lyricist and song-writer, and one of those warm, enticing, immediately recognisable voices. Having not heard Sally since her days with the Poozies (my loss), I instantly re-connected!

Ghost Girl is one of those albums you have to be in the mood for - it is full of songs of uncertain love, abandonment and heartbreak. But the songs are never trite, the melodies are strong and the sentiments always delivered with subtle reflections on the vagaries of fate. Ghost Girl itself has a long pedigree, first having been recorded on the Poozies' 2015 album Into the Well. Sally's refrain - "Tell me was it supposed to be love …?" says it all. A song of betrayal where the woman (Sally herself?) follows her "heart into the valley of oblivion, where death threw his velvet cloak over my head"! Not your usual love-song lyrics - but a powerful and controlled performance, spurred on by a driving guitar and bass rhythm. It sets the mood for many of the other songs, which balance resentment of a woman, at the thoughtless treatment by her lover, against the rueful exploration of the singer's own frailties in love.

There are several other stand-out tracks. Emperor of Cool is a brilliant put-down of an arrogant lover - "as you roll another cigarette, you delight in telling me you dated me for a bet. But darling I know where your single malt is kept - I'll piss in the bottle so you don't forget". Carried along by a Spanish feel and a jaunty rhythm, we can see that the woman has not been crushed by her ex., merely empowered to take back her life. Vampire of Love is a sad, slow acoustic dirge, as much about the woman's vulnerability as the man's callous approach to love: "I never could trust a handsome man, but I always wanted to tame a wild one." The sparse backing exposes Sally's voice to close scrutiny - and the tone and pitch are perfect. No wonder she made the finals of The Voice in 2014! Other tracks highlight her warm tones, and illustrate why Sally sang the Sandy Denny role in the re-formed Fotheringay. Two Hearts, and particularly Tell it Like it Is, share the plaintive sound and soulful yearning of classic Denny. Final mention must be made of I'm Not Whole - a duet with her son Dillon, who also wrote the song.

Credit also must go to the tasteful playing of Sally's backing musicians, especially Keith Richard Buck (pedal steel guitar) and Glenn Hughes (piano) who add light and colour to these songs - see Hughes piano coda, Theme to 'Ghost Girl'.

If you like good folk-influenced singing and song-writing, with great tunes and incisive lyrics, then this album is well worth a listen.

Martin Price