Three years after her debut – it’s taken everyone time to get back into the way of things – Hannah Rarity releases her second album, To Have You Near, a collection of original songs and covers. I say this a lot but it’s true – Hannah is supported by the cream of Scotland’s musical talent including producer Innes White, Scott Mackay, and James Lindsay and a string quartet of Seonaid Aitken, Katrina Lee, Patsy Reid and Alice Allen – names I write with increasing frequency these days. Whatever is going on behind her, though, Hannah’s lovely voice dominates proceedings.
There is a post-pandemic sense of longing about the record. The opening track, ‘Home’ sets it up: “I want a home/Not just a place to lay my head”, expressing the need for roots and companionship. The album title could have been taken from several songs; in fact it comes from the second track, ‘My Friend’. “It’s been one hell of a year”, Hannah sings, describing an evening spent in the company of an old friend. It reads as purely platonic and yet it seems that she is yearning for something more.
The first of the covers is Gerry O’Beirne’s ‘Shades Of Gloria’, a song full of nostalgia referencing Miko Russell (I think) and the West Clare Railway, which closed in 1961 and is now run as a heritage line. It’s not about Hannah’s home turf, over John Lowrie’s rippling piano and the string quartet, she sings the song as though it were. Boo Hewerdine’s ‘I’m Not Going Anywhere’ could be a companion piece to ‘My Friend’, offering reassurance in absence. Boo sings backing vocals in the song as he does on ‘Hard Times (Come Again No More)’ the ultimate song of hope written a hundred and fifty years ago or thereabouts. But is it really a song of hope or one of disappointment?
Tom Waits’ ‘Take It With Me’ is about holding on, whether that be memories or love and it’s actually one of Waits most optimistic songs. ‘She Must Be Mad’ seems to me to be about mutual incomprehension but Hannah characterises it differently and ‘Kaleidoscope’, co-written with Gordon Maclean as was ‘Home’ returns to an underlying theme of “a better life long past”.
Two more covers close the album. Davy Steele’s ‘Scotland Yet’, a pro-independence song, is never far away as is the debate about the subject and there is optimism in its words. Last of all is Julie Matthews’ ‘Comes The Hour’ taken from one of the new radio ballads. It’s about AIDS – an ultimate song of loss.
To Have You Near is a triumph – mixing moods to bring the listener down and then lift them up again, playing on our emotions. I do think that ‘Scotland Yet’ or ‘Take It With Me’ would have made a better closer, certainly a more positive one, but maybe that’s just me.
Artist’s website: www.hannahrarity.com
‘Scotland Yet’ – live: