Album review: Applewood Road

Applewood Road by Applewood Road
2016

Within a day of meeting, accomplished solo singers Amber Rubarth, Amy Speace and Emily Barker had written a song called Applewood Road. When they next got together, as a band called Applewood Road, they wrote and recorded their debut album called – you guessed it – Applewood Road.  As if collaborating and performing with near-strangers wasn’t challenging enough, they recorded live to tape around a single microphone.

It’s fitting that Applewood Road by Applewood Road is the first track on Applewood Road. Accompanied only by the driving beat of an upright bass, the three singers harmonise effortlessly, with subtle colour in the lyrics and in the vocals. Evocative and wistful, Applewood Road sets the tone for the record, transporting the listener to the small towns and backwoods of the American South.

By far the most important instrument on this nostalgic record is voice. In To The Stars, each singer takes a verse in turn, seamlessly backed up by close harmonies from the other two. It’s a delicate tune about the importance and ephemerality of wishes, radio waves and, ultimately, human lives. Played out as a potted meta biography of one curious boy’s life (“his story was long but this is just one little song”), the abiding theme of that life, and of the song, is love.

The primacy of love is asserted time and again. In Sad Little Tune, Emily Barker rejects material riches for love in all its forms. Similarly, in Bring The Car Round – the most beautiful song about a bush fire you’re ever likely to hear – she covers saving what’s important: loved ones, ultimately. Amy Speace’s exceptional song of longing, Give Me Love, is an undoubted highlight.

Lyrically and tonally, Applewood Road is an album of charming contrasts. Songs about danger are measured and philosophical, dolorous ballads are replete with hope, and toe-tapping, knee-slapping old-timey numbers explore broken, bad relationships. Delicate songs are followed by raucous singalongs, and the album encompasses bluegrass, Americana and country sounds.

The record could easily finish on the bittersweet I’m Not Afraid Anymore, a heartbreakingly reflective break-up song that is both tender and soaring.  A memorable piano version closed the trio’s outstanding London album launch show.  However, there’s space for a few more timeless tracks, ending with Amber Rubarth’s My Love Grows. This half-whispered waltz is a sweet little song to tie up a sweet little album of delightful contrasts, nostalgia and love.

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If you’re going to Glastonbury, you have the chance to catch this talented trio on the acoustic stage (Sunday at 1:35pm). Don’t worry if you can’t make it through the mud as Applewood Road will be touring the UK in July with Grammy Award winner Mary Chapin Carpenter, including a show at London’s Barbican and a set at the renowned Cambridge Folk Festival. Check them out if you can – you won’t be disappointed! Tour dates: applewoodroadmusic.com

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