(4 / 5)
The tag line; “the singer who made Sir Tom Jones cry,” is gonna follow Ms Barker around for the rest of her natural days. Was she that bad that Tom wept? Nah…..she was THAT good. Too good! A reference to her 2014 appearances on the BBC TV (now ITV) prime-time singing contest, The Voice; where she was chosen by the Welsh legend to join Team Tom. Over the weeks of the show, Sally ended up coming second in the final. For many, Sally was the winner. She sang a duet with her mentor on the show, and since The Voice, has kept in touch with Tom and opened shows for him.
Sally rejected a major record label’s £75,000 advance cash deal to record an album of covers, to cash in on her new-found fame in the wake of The Voice. Instead preferring to finish off an album partly recorded with her female folk supergroup The Poozies, release an EP and write and record an album of her own songs.
Here it is…“Ghost Girl,” offers us a dozen cuts; eight penned by Sally, three co-written with two of her musical pals and the second track in, written by her son Dillon Wakeford. Produced by Sally and Neil Segrott, a gifted live music sound engineer and a very decent producer of acoustic music in his own Leicester studio. His work with Aussie troubadour Derrin Nauendorf is exemplary.
There are nine musical colleagues contributing to the record, including some lovely guitar work from Ian Crabtree, who Sally co-wrote “Hand Of Fate,” and “Queen Of Reckless Feelings,” with. Sally’s voice is best described as; well, Sally’s voice. If you have heard her before, on record, on stage, on the radio or on the TV, you’ll know what she can do with that instrument of hers.
When she presses the “emotion over-drive” button while singing a song, look out and grab those tissues PDQ. If it can move a man like Thomas Woodward aka Sir Tom Jones who has heard it all, then it can sure as hell move you and I. Some of the material gives her a much better platform for that passionate and innate emotional vocal delivery than others here.
I have never felt that as a singer, Sally Barker has to “sell” us a lyric, to make us believe that the words she is delivering are true. But on some of the material here, I felt it restricted her vocal somewhat and she then didn’t sound as emotionally connected, and the personal story behind the song was perhaps more important to her than the feeling it created to the listener. I once wrote about Sally in an international magazine that “the emotion and passion in her voice, the vulnerability and fragility of her vocal is an art that not too many singers can master.” I stick by that statement. It’s just that some of the material here doesn’t give Sally the room to create that atmosphere and channel those feelings that has been known to move people to tears, as much as I know she is capable of.
A burning desire for revenge drives the opener, “Emperor of Cool”, which has a Tango vibe to it You can almost hear the clenched teeth and grimace as she snarls out the lyric, about some guy bragging about going out with her for a bet, and the fact she knows where this guy’s malt whisky is kept, so: “I’ll piss in the bottle so you don’t forget.”
Her son Dillon Wakeford penned the gorgeous song, “I’m Not Whole,” which is a perfect fit for his Mum. Dillon turns out some sweet country-ish guitar licks, and some fine backing vocals. Sally drives the track along on acoustic guitar.
Sally co-wrote “Like Sugar,” with long-time collaborator Debbie Cassell, and has the platform to use her impressive range and tone on this one. The pedal steel part makes the song a tad too melancholic for me, but as it is the tale of a wife’s temptation while hubbie is away at war, maybe that is meant to be the case.
The title cut is one of the most commercial songs of the dozen, sat on the foundation of Tom Bull’s double bass lines. “Ghost Girl” first appeared on The Poozies’ “Into The Well,” album, but unhappy with the key and her guitar playing in hindsight, Sally re-arranged the song for this solo album. Nice job.
The stripped back “Vampire of Love,” sees Sally on acoustic guitar, piano and vocal, with only backing vocalist Lee Glasson for company. A lovely lead vocal; Sally knows how to let a song breath and leave space, and her control is masterly. “Hand Of Fate,” sits on a subtle jazz vibe, written by Sally and Ian Crabtree as a song intended for Tom Jones to sing. Ian’s acoustic slide guitar solo is a very nice touch; Tom Bull’s double bass reminds me of the great Danny Thompson. Not sure the song’s tempo is a total fit here though. The hand of fate in the lyric, was the offer of a bumper pay day from the major record label for Sally to sell her soul to record a covers album, and ignore her own songs. She can sleep at night, but I bet her bank account is less healthy!
PJ Wright’s twangy Nashville-style electric guitar solo on “Mr Bang,” is fab. The track misses a drum track for me though. Ironically, when you know this is about a drummer. A drummer Sally knows very well. A “complicated, difficult and troubled person,” and a “very loud drummer.” Aren’t they all?
The undisputed highlight of the album for me is “Two Hearts.” A really beautiful, gentle, love song ballad; shivers down the spine time with Sally’s uber-natural vocal and most definite emotional connection to the lyrics. “Darling you make my heart say a lot of unguarded things…” How lovely is that? A phrase you can “borrow” on 14th February inside your Valentine’s Day cards, maybe? Sally will not mind! Keith Buck’s weeping pedal steel is a nice touch, and the tapestry woven by the steel and Ian Crabtree’s Spanish guitar is smashing. Best cut on the album, and ripe for a cover by some star who needs a big song and will put some dosh into Sally’s pocket as the writer, with her integrity intact.
“Queen Of Reckless Feelings,” kicks off with a finger clicking groove, double bass gives a jazz tinged flavour, on another commercial cut. Fairground Attraction/Eddi Reader flavour to it perhaps. Penned by Sally and Ian. Sally has no hiding place or moral support on “Tell It Like It Is”. Just her acoustic guitar and vocal for this one. A pleasant track, but needs a little more on it for me. “Canada,” is a nice job, where we get double bass, pedal steel, Spanish guitar, acoustic guitar, percussion, backing vocals and of course, the inimitable Sally B on lead vocal.
The album comes to a close with “Theme To Ghost Girl,” when the talented Glenn Hughes, a regular collaborator with Sally, plays us out for 62 seconds alone on piano – an instrumental refrain from the title track. Takes my mind back to one of my all-time musical heroes, Dave Grusin – Glenn has a similar touch and feel on the keyboard.
Sally has made six solo albums and several with The Poozies. She also sings with the recently re-formed folk rock band Fotheringay, channelling the late Sandy Denny and is currently out on a six week tour with Fairport Convention.
By Simon Redley
(1 / 5) ‘Dull Zone’
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’