Album Review: Marry Waterson and Emily Barker – A Window To Other Ways

As Marry Waterson comes from folk royalty, she’s first in the band name and her voice ushers in the album. Simple instrumentation foreground her strident vocal. When the lyrics speak of being “a lone ghost taking notes,” Emily Barker’s voice drifts in like a welcome spectre. The Casper of folk rock, if you will. Her higher tone adds highlights to the piece.

Perfect Needs is more upbeat than the title track, with both singers voices blending from the start. With it’s dynamic pop melody, this song could easily grace an indie film soundtrack without betraying its creators’ folk pedigrees.

Little Hits Of Dopamine sees a different approach. The vocal lines are distinct and separate. This adds to the sense of isolation in the lyrics that decry the distractions and false intimacy of ‘social’ media: “let me be the one to make you forget to check your notifications/take a vacation from your applications/I’m right here, right now/you’re missing out.” There’s no real resolution. We don’t find out if the promise of the real is enough to combat the digital chimera.

There’s a lingering sense that All Is Well is a bitterly ironic title. A thumb piano lends a ghostly air, as does Barker sharing backing vocal space with a deeper singer to echo Waterson’s ‘all is well’ refrain.

We Don’t Talk Anymore is a vehicle for Barker’s gorgeous voice. It expresses the longing and confusion of a breakup: “you don’t call anytime/yet could I still be on your mind?”

Drinks Two and Three takes a more traditional duet format to combine both artists’ vocals. Each takes turns on a verse then they sing together in the choruses. The lyrics describe feeling alienated in a  modern social environment. An introvert’s anthem, really: “my exit strategy means a nice pot of tea/and a volume of poetry sat on my settee.”

I’m Drawn is backed by ukelele picking. The lyrics are replete with colourful imagery.

Twister sees a successful blend of the two very different voices so it’s no surprise it was chosen as the lead single.

Disarm Me is an experimental track straying far from traditional folk tropes. The only instrument backing Barker’s jazz lullaby vocal is a tiny music box.

What All Is Well hinted at, It’ll Be Good covers in spades. Waterson sings “Sorry I wasn’t in the mood to be a person today/sorry I forgot to keep a conversation/sorry my soul needs ironing.” That graphic imagery is followed by concrete steps to combat looming depression, leading to hopes that Barker’s “it’ll be good refrain” has a chance to be true.

Trick of the Light strays even further from folk with a whispered spoken word intro then an intriguing sultry jazz vocal from Barker, backed by Lukas Drinkwater’s ponderous double bass. An album of songs like this please, Emily!

Going Dark is a sweet closer asking for reassurance: “when you go dark/tell me not to worry.” The instrumentation takes centre stage.

This album will not be to everyone’s taste; perhaps a bit contemporary for folk traditionalists, a bit jarring for vocal purists. It’s best if you make up your own mind, and you can check out all the songs on YouTube with creative videos designed by Waterson.

Marry Waterson and Emily Barker are on tour together now accompanied by Lukas Drinkwater, before Barker heads out to support Frank Turner. 


A Window To Other Ways is out now on One Little Indian.
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