“…what really caught me about her music were her lyrics. Dramatic and heartfelt, this introvert songstress painted vivid, expansive portraits of everyday life like a poetic Picasso. Ms Scarr invited the audience into her world where anguish and confusion could be overcome through song. “
Review of Partners In Rhyme @ Walthamstow Library | 04.08.12Written By Matthew “Eli” Bell
“This is the kind of act that reminds us why we keep on coming to this kind of night. Emma is one of the best songwriters around. Her lyrics hover in perfect synchronization over the right chords telling us what we need to know in the way we need to know.”
Lantern Society, London
“London Americana? Yes, it can be done!”
https://emmascarr.bandcamp.com/ for latest CD “Scarred For Life”
“As well as being one half of Black*Scarr with Johnny Black, Emma Scarr has a parallel solo career, albeit she’s been a little lax on that count with this being her first album as such in nine years. And, recorded in lockdown, save for Garry Smith remotely contributing slide, 12 string, Tricone resonator and mandola on three tracks, it’s a totally one-woman affair, Scarr playing all the instruments, which include table banging percussion but no drums or electric bass, with the music’s influences encompassing country, Americana, traditional and folk-punk, delivered in an unvarnished, raspy but compelling vocal at times evocative of Kirsty MacColl.
The material encompasses previously unrecorded songs from the past 15 years, alongside two from 2020, one of the former providing the opener with Kathy O’Toole, a reminiscence of a friend from her teenage years, a painter and decorator from Ireland, that won the first Watford Folk Song Competition in 2015. A celebration of the musical debt owed to the Irish musicians with whom she played in London during the 90s, it slowly jogs along as, accompanied by strummed mandolin, fiddle and whistle, she unfolds the memories.
The harmonica haunted, cascading melody of When I Used To Drink continues the reflective note with its reminiscences of a once over-affectionate relationship with the bottle and the security and companionship it provided, followed on with the lurching mazurka-feel to Sirens In July as it talks of the regular drought-caused yearly fires on Wanstead Flats, harmonica adding a touch of the spaghetti westerns.
A reference to the secluded waters of Snaresbrook at the tip of Epping Forest, taken at a gentle, rueful pace The Ballad of Hollow Ponds is more especially a song about getting older and how life portrayed on the film posters and in songs is rarely akin to the real thing, exchanging the fiery passion of youth for rowing and watching the ripples.
Still within Epping Forest, riding a mandola wave and electric guitar break, My Debden Prince is a simple rootsy love song, to be followed in a slow sway-along with the harmonica-blowing, simple drum thump, mandolin shimmering Last Year’s Joke, a near six-minute wry (not necessarily autobiographical) self-portrait musing on a past dysfunctional relationship into which she plunged headlong (“moderation’s not something I can do”) only to be left beached (“I know nothing of men or middle-aged sex”) and wallowing in the rage and self-pity of a 14-year-old.
It’s back to an uptempo, lurching driving strum, Irish folk flurries and alcohol as a crutch for lack of self-worth with the shoulder of support on offer in Molly What’s Your Poison? before the lyrical GPS again locates to Essex with River Blackwater, a sub-tributary of the Thames that rises near Saffron Walden, a flow along, squeezebox coloured romantic getaway from the urban daily grind, laughing like a loon even as she ponders storm clouds gathering in her mind
It ends, first, with the fiddle and mandolin-led folk-punk bounce and harmonica solo of Stay, a song about a can’t live with you, can’t live without you relationship that might well be the characters from Fairytale of New York somewhere further down the line, and, finally, striking a similar thematic note (and with vague musical echoes of the aforementioned), the sway-along, shanty-ish Blackberry Picking, a fruit-based fable about a relationship in which the narrator’s companion is never satisfied and always wants more and better. Both she and Black have gathered a solid following for their albums and live shows in and around their stomping ground, this terrific album once again reinforcing that their music, together or solo, is deserving of a far wider and far bigger audience.”
FOLK RADIO UK
FOLK AND ROOTS – Album reviews
Emma Scarr – Angel Way
Angel as in Islington… This is the debut album from Emma, an East-London-based singer/songwriter who for the past ten years has played fiddle with The Northern Celts. But rather than being a Celtic-style musical venture, Angel Way is very much an exercise in urban-folk, albeit with a strong Americana flavour that betrays Emma’s influences (to my ears especially Mary Gauthier and Gillian Welch). Her songs have an unassumingly raw and direct character that derives as much from her plain-spoken writing as from the at times harsh and unforgiving local environment in which her stories and observations are set. Given that directness, however, it may seem curious that in Emma’s songs, emotion is not always on display in the shop window, but harder to locate and fish out, being altogether more subtly incorporated within her musical settings and delivery. Even so, her world always finds room for affection, as portrayed in the charmingly unsentimental domesticity of Little Hand and the backporch banjo musings of My Second Love.
Emma’s singing voice is spontaneously communicative, upfront and insistent in tone, on occasions slightly strident even, but also possessing a touch of almost-sweetness that can surprise. This combination actually suits the no-nonsense perceptiveness of Emma’s writing, while the entirely Gauthier-like uncompromising honesty in depicting commonplace, banal happenings and feelings with keen and thoughtful insight (and a not exactly unexpected element of self-pity) surfaces most obviously on The Gap and It Ain’t Good For Me (the latter complete with scratchy matchbox-percussion obligato just to ram the message home!). There’s a kinda rough, early-Dylanesque aura to Devon and Mary’s Going Nowhere, while Neasden To Nashville neatly draws together the two strongly place-driven elements in Emma’s musical narratives. The myriad of topographical references in Going Home sure has us pondering the eternal enigma of why nobody ever gets off at Stepney Green…!
The ostensible emptiness of her characters’ lives is strangely aptly mirrored in the unadorned, dusty Americana-style musical backdrops, open-toned yet quite claustrophobic, where for much of the time Emma’s lone acoustic guitar is gently embellished with only Shuggie Fisher’s bell-like mandolin and some overdubbed vocal harmonies; at times, Emma also contributes some sparing fiddle and banjo to the mix – and to good effect. I like this one a lot, and hope to hear more of Emma.
Emma Scarr – DUSTY ROADS AND MOTORWAYS
I reviewed Emma’s assured debut Angel Way back in 2009, finding it a delightful, highly individual variant of urban-folk, a decidedly backporch-London take on the approved singer-troubadour model but with some ace playing (guitar, fiddle, banjo) to boot. If anything, Emma’s folk-busker directness is even more a feature of that album’s followup, which delivers a further appealing collection of self-penned songs. Her upfront, slightly raw, plain-spoken vocal expressiveness communicates right away, and proves absolutely right for the material; she sings unsentimentally and powerfully of often highly personal experiences and their special, intimate place-driven resonances, yet without displaying a trace of self-pity or undue exclusivity. For there’s a defiance and independence rooted within Emma’s apparent sanguine outlook. Her writing tends to focus on the simultaneous appeal of, and intrinsic conflict between, the deep longing for excitement and adventure and the equivalent gravitational pull of the everyday, comfortably known world. This central paradox is expressed in wistful language that exhibits a special kind of timeless Englishness yet betrays as many influences drawn from (or more familiar to) the Americana genre, not least in the core sound and instrumentation employed. And arguably nowhere better is the above paradox expressed than in the conversational wishful-dreaming of Midnight In Alberta (hard to imagine anywhere more remote from Leytonstone!). The album ends perhaps a touch uncharacteristically folkily, with Emma relating the tale of the Martyrs (Home To Tolpuddle), but between those two points Emma takes us crusin’ down the M4 all the way to Avon County (To The West), into the past (the parlour-piano and double bass melancholy of Diaries, delivered almost sotto voce to compelling effect) and the realms of wishful fantasy (A Folk Singer’s Dream), tinged with acute realisation and realism (Not For Me) and interspersed with perplexed reminiscing and regretting (East Of England), twisted childhood-balladry (Don’t Go To The Funfair Son, which sports some wonderfully delirious electric guitar embellishment), and even a touch of observational humour (Annie’s Tattoo) along the way. Emma’s creations display an enviable grasp of the songwriter’s craft, and her unique life-vision comes together most convincingly on the Dusty Roads And Motorways of her musical creativity.