(24 September 2005) Earthbound (Emperor (UK) EMPCD001, 2005) is the new eight-track solo album from enchanting singer-songwriter Sophie Barker. Widely known as one of the featured vocalists for chillout act Zero 7, and as the primary vocalist for the world/ambient project "Bliss," Sophie has teamed up with Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins fame and Violet Indiana for her debut. The result is a beautifully refreshing album that showcase Sophie's luminous and heartfelt voice.
The songs on Earthbound remain generally grounded in a shimmering realm of effect-washed acoustic guitars and draw favorable comparisons to artists like "A Girl Called Eddy" and "Trespassers William." Without question, Ms. Barker's voice and lyrics weave a strong spell of passion, contemplation, and intimacy. From the opening verse of "Secret," Sophie's voice captures the attention of the listener with its fluid and pure tone. Strumming guitar and romantic violin join the vocals resulting in a haunting and elegant marriage of sounds and timbres. "Stop Me" will very much please fans of Cocteau Twins or Love Spirals Downwards. Robin Guthrie's unique and instantly recognizable "sound" is imprinted on the instrumentation. The melody is thoroughly tender and warm and Sophie's lovely voice is matched by Robin's superb guitar work.
"Dreamlife" is a quiet and dreamy acoustic number that makes the most of Sophie's wistful vocals and sparse instrumentation. When music can be this stripped-down and still sound this gorgeous, the appreciation for the artist only increases. Such is the case with Sophie Barker. "Wintertime" is one of those tracks that is so pleasurable to listen to and so lacking in pretension and contrivance that it actually puts a smile on your face. "On My Way Home" may be the best track on the album; in fact, it may be one of the best modern folk songs written in the last decade. Lyrically, Sophie has captured the poignancy of a return journey to a place of long-lost familiarity--and her voice is so perfectly poised that it creates an ache inside.
"Start Me" cascades in Twin Peaks-flavored waves that would make David Lynch proud. Slightly jazzy and off-kilter, one can almost imagine Sophie crooning this tune in a dark cabaret club situated in a medieval european town. "Angel" continues the sojourn into a wonderfully darker musical world. With strange whirring beat and bell tones, Sophie sings about the intervention of angels in her life. The closing track, "Stumble" ends the album on a bit more positive and hopeful note reminiscent of Dar Williams or Heather Nova.
Sophie Barker has created an album that must surely rank as one of the best of the year. What is most impressive about her work is the effortless quality of her singing and the perfect blend of acoustic instrumentation which allows Sophie's radiant and unobstructed voice to remain the focal point of the album.
Here's hoping that Sophie Barker has many more songs inside and that she will share them with world.--Justin Elswick in Provo, Utah and Russ Elliot in New York