Album Review: Applewood Road by Nikki Owen

The Nashville folk band Applewood Road have already made something of a splash before their debut album of the same name has even come out.  Bagging a session live on Dermot O’Leary’s Radio 2 Saturday afternoon show, the girls Amber Rubarth , Amy Speace and Stroud based Emily Barker showcased their eerie, ethereal three-part harmony voices before an LP was even pressed. Even then, they made an impact, so what now of their new album?

The band has wisely gone for simplicity, and listening to their music, it works. They use their voices. They use live recordings in analogue around one microphone. They use acoustic guitars, a banjo, harmonicas and, sometimes, a piano, but that’s it. No whizz technology, no synthing of voices, and hearing the tunes, especially the opener – entitled Applewood Road, naturally – you get a real sense here that this is a collection of music that yes, you want to listen to, but when you do, you may, as a result, actually feel a little bit better after a hard day at work. Or just, well, a hard day, really.

As the album shifts on from the title song, we get to pick up the simplicity as it’s carried along to create melodies that sound anything but straight forward. Sad Little Tune, for example, several tracks in, has a bootleg quality about it, and blended with the harmonic, almost mermaid type voices of the experienced singers, you end up finding yourself a bit entranced, a bit taken in by the whispering yet upbeat quality of it all.  This is folk music at its best all right, but don’t be fooled by the folk side of it – these are tunes that have the ability to transcend genres.

In fact, Applewood Road’s music fits with what seems to be an emerging trend of folk music shifting gear into the mainstream chart topping highway. And so it should. This is good, good stuff. My Love For You Grows and Josephine, are two further tracks that catch your breath a little, along with the goosebump-inducing Home Fires (my favourite). But, what’s clever about it is that these are songs that would be just right played at home in the back ground while your dinner party carried on or while you curled up with a good book, just as much they would be being belted out loud from a festival stage. This, my friend, is music that, whatever the context, means something.

The only thing I struggled with here, sometimes, was the sudden change of pace in the album, especially when the banjo was introduced. However, I think this is  more down to my ears perhaps not being that used to the sound of this instrument. After a few re-runs of the banjo tunes, I gradually got used to it, and, yes, liked it. The ‘country’ element of such songs were probably my least favourite, but really that’s by the by. This is an album that deserves to grace many a dining room and lounge and festival stage and, heck, just about anywhere really. Your ears – and soul – will, I believe, thank you for it.

Applewood Road’s album is out on vinyl via Gearbox Records on the 12th February

Nikki Owen is an author and writer. Her début thriller, Subject 375 (Harper Collins), is out now. Catch her at blog or website

Pick up a copy of Issue #11 Feb 2016 for Nikki's Applewood Road feature including an interview with Emily Barker