The Shining new Album from Emily Barker
Emily Barker has just released a ‘Room 822’ her new album, which is a homage to 10 iconic Australian songs.
The album was recorded in a Perth hotel room when Barker and husband, Lukas Drinkwater were in quarantine in a Perth hotel during October 2021.
The pair are based in the UK and knowing that they would be forced to quarantine when they returned to Australia to visit family, they packed their suitcases with gear that they would enable them to make the recording, including a guitar and folding double bass. A friend conveniently dropped off mic stands and keyboards.
Barker had been thinking about selecting some Australian songs to record and started a playlist of potential tunes. It was a struggle to select the final tracks but eventually she settled on the 10 that make up Room 822. Some songs from one of her favourite musicians like Archie Roach were considered but rejected because Barker felt that his songs were too unique to Roach’s life as an indigenous Australian, for her to cover.
Once they were ensconced in the hotel, Barker and Drinkwater found that their room was well-situated and they enjoyed the morning sun and the view of St. Mary’s Cathedral where they watched people doing normal things like attending weddings, funerals and Sunday church services.
The album starts with a shimmering version of Nick Cave’s ‘Push the Sky Away’. Barker’s voice provides a more melodic rendering of the song that induces goosebumps. The difficulties that the pair had to contend with such as a humming hotel fridge that could not be silenced are not at all apparent on this compelling version of Cave’s song.
In an interview with The Sun, Cave was quoted as saying that, “..there’s this idea that we need to carry on and do what we do. The song is optimistic in that respect. Of course it’s impossible to push the sky away but we need to try.” It is apt that Cave said that about a song that Barker and Drinkwater had to struggle to record amongst the blaring of police and ambulance sirens and helicopters passing by their hotel room.
Another stand out track is Barker’s cover of ‘Tomorrow’ which was originally recorded by Silverchair. The pair turn this grunge anthem into a folk classic, featuring some Crosby, Stills & Nash-like harmonising. The song sounds like it was recorded in Laurel Canyon, not at a Westin in Perth! Aptly, a cover of the Waifs’s ‘London Still’ is also featured on the album. Barker’s rendition, perhaps because of her prolonged absence from Australia informs a version that is heartbreaking in its melancholic representation of longing for loved ones who are far away.
Barker has spoken about how she was insistent that songs by Nick Cave and Paul Kelly had to be represented on the album. She chose to cover Kelly’s ‘Sleep, Australia, Sleep’ which is a poignant warning to Australians about the dangers of climate change, particularly relevant given the bushfires that have raged in WA this year.
Apart from covering songs by more established composers such Cave and Kelly, Barker has also chosen to interpret contemporary artists. Barker’s version of Stella Donnelly’s ‘Boys will be Boys’ is more intense than the original and is a fierce indictment of the culture of victim blaming that exists around sexual assault.
The title of the album is reminiscent of the 2012 documentary about the work of Stanley Kubrick, Room 237 which delved into interpretations of his movie, ‘The Shining’, in which a struggling author becomes a homicidal maniac whilst his family is isolated in an empty hotel.
‘Room 822’, which was also born of isolation is a work of outstanding beauty that showcases a selection of some of the greatest Australian songs ever written. Luckily for us, quarantine brought out the best in Barker and Drinkwater, allowing them to reinterpret a truly great array of songs, unlike what writer’s block did to Jack Torrance and his family at the Overlook hotel in the Shining.
Link to Emily's website.