February 11, 2016
Exmouth Market Centre, London
Bands don’t go from meeting in a café to glowing four star reviews in mainstream publications within without some serious talent. The first half of the night was devoted to showcasing the solo skills of Applewood Road’s Emily Barker, Amber Rubarth and Amy Speace. Anyone familiar with The Revival Tour would recognize the format. No support, no breaks, no filler – just music, stories and lots of laughter.
“I discovered the inventor of rock and roll was a woman and it changed my life” – Emily Barker
As a long-time resident and naturalised British citizen, Emily Barker had home advantage. She could have taken the safe route and knocked out a string of old favourites. Instead she stepped up and knocked it out of the park. The new songs marked something of a departure – a touch gospel, a little bluesy – and all at once confident, tender, strong and sweet. The set was rounded out with a rousing rendition of a Barker classic, Disappear.
“Before doing music I was a chainsaw sculptor in Nevada…I realized there weren’t a lot of songs about chainsaw sculpting in Nevada” – Amber Rubarth
Amber Rubarth shone during her set, exuding an easy charm. The chainsaw sculpting song, Rough Cut – written from the point of view of the wood – was surprisingly powerful and touching. Throughout the performance Amber’s vocals were pure as she sung captivating stories of hope, home and home truths.
“I come from a long line of Irish Catholics, nuns and priests and sailors” – Amy Speace
Those familiar with Emily Barker likely know the song Letters based on her grandfather’s wartime correspondence. Amy Speace has also immortalised her grandparents in song. The drama in Ghost is less life-threatening, but heartbreaking nonetheless, as her grandmother’s devotion to duty in caring for her ailing parents led to 18 year of separation from the man she loved. Evocative and spell-binding, like the rest of the performance. Amy shared quiet tales sung loud and clear, delivered with wit and confidence.
“It’s like a disco Grand Ole Opry!”
Given the quality of the prior performances, it was difficult to see how Applewood Road could possibly be greater than the sum of its parts. No need to worry. The crowd savoured in silence as they were treated to delicate harmonies, soaring vocals and a rich country-tinged Americana sound characterised by warmth. Amidst the smiles and laughter it was hard to believe that the three hadn’t been friends for years, let alone having little chance to rehearse since that first meeting in a café just over a year ago. Usually separated by the Atlantic ocean, let’s hope it isn’t long before they’re back together on this side of it.