ASHA McCARTHY – Epitaph (own label)

EpitaphPerforming Western classical, North Indian classical and folk music, Asha McCarthy plays a cello specially adapted for Hindustani music, Epitaph being her debut album, a collection of inspired by life-threatening complications following the traumatic birth of her daughter and subsequent experiences of postnatal mental health challenges. Written for her daughter as a keepsake in the event of her ever not being there to care for and guide her, it’s a breathily sung, atmospheric, at times ethereal, work that employs her cello to calming, tranquil effect as well as including viola, shaker, guitars and dholak with Misha Mullov Abbado on bass.

It opens with the dreamy ‘Drift’, a lullaby to sooth away stress as she sings “Let the stars guide you over the threshold …let the darkness move you into peace again”. The title track comes in two parts, the first an instrumental with plucked strings and cello drone backdropped by the sound of lapping waves, the second a five minute vocal expansion that offers up a prayer (“Take this love and give it to my daughter/Let it reach her heart, protect her/Take this love and let it be the home she finds”) and breaks out into handclaps mid-way as the tempo picks up

Again featuring pizzicato viola complementing the cello, with understated bass lines, ‘Love Surrounds You’ addresses being aware of the experience of postnatal depression (“You wake and you wake/And my skull aches/But you don’t mean harm/Holding my arm/And in the morning you smile/And my eyes fill/It’s not how it should be/This intensity/There should be a warm clan/To embrace you and me”). In turn, this is  followed by the rippling circling trills of  the six-minute ‘All New’, a song about eventual recovery from postnatal mental trauma  through the power of motherhood (“This is where my mind split, all crumbled/But this is where you grew, all love…this is how you made me all new”), again offering up a prayer (“to be worthy of your trust/And the love that you place in me”) pulsing backing vocals counterpointing the repeated  refrain as it ebbs to a close.

It ends with the fingerpicked self-explanatory ‘Trust’ enveloped by cosmic swirls as it comes full circle from the opening dusk setting to ‘‘Til Dawn’ with its multitracked soaring vocals, simple guitar picks and a lyric about the healing balm of sleep, the lines “Feel relaxed

And feel cells renew…Sleep ’til dawn…Ancestors protect you/And are with you all night” directed as much to her child as to herself.

Beautifully crafted, Epitaph will chime most with women who have had similar experiences but will surely resonate with any who have struggled on a journey out of the dark and into the light.

Mike Davies

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