I had better confess that I’m a bit of a fan of Rachel Newton. The last time I heard her perform live she demonstrated how to play harmonics on the harp and let me tell you that it isn’t easy. West is her fourth solo album, named for her grandfather who lived on the west side of Achnahaird where Rachel went with Matty Foulds to record. West is entirely solo, just voice and harp, and doesn’t encompass the high drama that marked her previous records although there is a fair measure of lost love. This is a very delicate album – I was tempted to say “fragile” but it isn’t. Rachel’s singing is gentle, certainly, but the harp accompaniments are firm. Even so, I could happily drift away to her playing.
Rachel begins with ‘Gura Muladach Sgith Mi’ adapted from the singing of Flora MacNeil of Barra and Catriona NicCharmaig and pitched fairly low in the earthier regions of her vocal range. From there she turns to a favourite of hers, Sir Walter Scott, with her setting of ‘Maid Of Neidpath’, turning it into a traditional ballad in everything but origin and a true story at that.
The album is punctuated by four short original harp compositions, ‘Suilven’ being the first, although I’m not sure that they are intended to mark turning points in the record. However, after ‘Suilven’, Rachel briefly leaves Scotland for ‘Once I Had A True Love’, based on the version by Peggy Seeger, although the song can be English, Scottish or Appalachian. She isn’t away long, though, visiting Tiree for ‘Hi Horo’s Na Horo Elle’ and following that with ‘Skye Air’, a gorgeous harp solo. ‘For Love’ is usually preceded by “Died” but this is a version I hadn’t heard before.
Rachel takes us to Arkansas for ‘A Token’ which is bookended by two more punctuation marks, ‘Stac Pollaidh’ and ‘Beinn An Eoin’. It’s another song of a dying lover and I’m sure that better minds than mine can trace its antecedents before it arrived in the Ozarks. There is another Gaelic song, one more short instrumental and Rachel finally gets to indulge her love of country music again. The first time I heard ‘Jolene’ sung in three part harmony I found it amusing and Rachel’s harp arrangement takes it off somewhere else. It makes a jolly encore to her live set so I suppose it’s placed appropriately here. But… perhaps someone should translate it into Gaelic!
Said The Maiden are Jess Distill, Hannah Elizabeth and Kathy Pilkinton, three friends who discovered a mutual love of folk music when they reunited several years after spending their school years together in St. Albans, Hertfordshire. The group sing traditional songs from around the UK and America, often in three part acapella harmony but also using guitar, violin, mandolin, woodwind, accordion and percussion to embellish their sound.
From tentatively performing a few songs at their local Redbourn Folk club in 2012 and later being asked to appear at one of the club’s guest nights, the group soon secured support and headline slots at folk clubs and festivals around the country, including Folk By The Oak, Folkeast, Gate to Southwell, Shepley and Bunkfest. These opportunities have in turn led to invitations to support many fantastic artists including The Fisherman’s Friends, Jim Moray, Megson, Martin Carthy, Sam Carter, Hannah James and Sam Sweeney, Treacherous Orchestra and Clannad. They were also honoured to join legendary fiddler Dave Swarbrick on a successful UK solo tour in the spring of 2014, and released their debut album A Curious Tale in June of the same year.
In May 2015 Said The Maiden was awarded Bristol Folk Festival’s prestigious Isambard Folk Award, and as a result opened for folk super-group The Full English at the 2015 Bristol Folk Festival. Most recently the group was voted for by festival-goers at the Great British Folk Festival 2015 as ‘best act’ on the Introducing Stage on the opening night, and will be performed on one of the festival’s main stages in December 2016.
Rachel Newton’s third solo album, Here’s My Heart Come Take It, is named after the opening track on this exciting new album; a bold combination of traditional folk songs and Rachel’s own compositions.
Recorded in December 2015 at the recently opened Caribou Recording studio near Edinburgh, Rachel and co-producer/drummer Mattie Foulds took time to build up a unique sound using voice, harps, piano, keyboards and percussion before inviting fiddle player Lauren MacColl and trombonist Michael Owers to complete the picture. Keen to try something different and to bring out the personality of each musician involved, Rachel deliberately chose a more experimental approach for this recording than she has with her earlier albums. Developing ideas, playing with sounds and improvising in the studio, combined with a considered choice of material has resulted in a very personal and heartfelt piece of work.
Founder member of The Furrow Collective, The Emily Portman Trio and The Shee, Rachel released solo albums The Shadow Side in 2012 and Changeling in 2014. As well as voice and harp, Rachel also plays piano, fiddle and viola and has worked across a range of performance platforms including theatre and storytelling. A skilled collaborator, Rachel also recently started working with Scottish/Norwegian band Boreas and was one of the eight musicians to work on The Elizabethan Session project.
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