House of Cards is the debut album from the 2009 Arts Foundation winner, Emily Baker. This eleven song offering is delivered after what has been an impressively busy year for the singer/songwriter, performing with the likes of Frank Turner, Beth Rowley, Pete Doherty and Gabriella Cilmi. Expectations for this debut are, perhaps unsurprisingly, high. Hit and Run introduces us to Emily’s distinctive and instantly recognisable vocals. It’s the not the most memorable of openers though, a mellow track that could easily be put to use as background music in a department store. Bordering, as most of the album does, on a line between country and folk, acoustic guitar, banjo and ukulele are all in plentiful supply here. Title track House of Cards is the highlight and the only really stand out point on the album. Emily’s obvious song writing talent shines through here, a quality that is consistent throughout this debut but really comes to the fore on this hum-along number. House of Cards makes a break from the mellow atmosphere colouring the remainder of the album and it’s all the catchier for it. Emily could really make her mark with sounds like this. More please.
Half in Bits makes a hasty return to Emily’s comfort zone, a chilled out, unassuming track, easily lost among its neighbours in a samey haze. Emily’s vocals save you from automatically reaching for the skip button, heartfelt and sincere they spare Half in Bits from complete banality. Rich Mans Weekend sees the first spark of something akin to attitude, a refreshing and much appreciated attention grabber following Half in Bits. It’s one of the few moments House of Cards offers that you might catch yourself absently humming later.
Overcoat and One of Those Days blend together, they’re too similar to make any real distinction, the break between tracks becomes barely perceptible. There’s just nothing here to keep your attention, faced as you are with this double bill of mild folk, which is a pity as Emily’s flawless song writing gets lost as a result. Don’t Look Down is slightly more upbeat and does revive your attention to some degree but it’s still not a track you’re going to dig out for future play lists.
Wild Horses and Fools give hope for an impressive close to Emily’s first outing. Fools in particular stands out with a quirkiness unlike anything else present here, it’s definitely one of the better and more impressive tracks of this debut. Never Thought I’d wraps up this initial attempt and you can’t help but think Emily should have stopped at Fools. It makes for a forgettable end, camouflaging itself easily among the earlier mellow numbers.
House of Cards is something of an acquired taste, you’ll either love it or hate it. Personally, there’s just not enough variety to keep me interested, asides from those moments where Emily shows what she’s really capable of (House of Cards, Rich Mans Weekend and Fools) the album is really a collection of background music.