Many people will be aware of Rachel Newton, the Highland-born and Glasgow-based singer and harp player, through her membership of renowned contemporary folk bands The Shee, The Furrow Collective, The Emily Portman Trio and Boreas, but she has been developing her own solo career in parallel, and very successfully too. Her quietly compelling vocals and sparkling harp skills, allied to her bold and imaginative arrangements, provide a modern twist to a range of traditional music forms. Rachel's first two solo albums, "The Shadow Side" (2012) and "Changeling" (2014) were well-received by the music press and fans alike and the early reviews of her new album, "Here's My Heart Come Take It", confirm that she has delivered another very fine collection of songs and music.
Rachel Newton toured the UK during March and April to promote her new album and, two days before the official launch gig in London on the release date, the Rachel Newton Trio played to a capacity audience at an intimate house concert in Edinburgh on 13th April. The trio consists of Rachel Newton on vocals and harp, Lauren MacColl (also of RANT and Salt House) on fiddle and Mattie Foulds on drums and percussion. Playing together as a unit for the past few years has enabled these three fine musicians to develop an understanding and chemistry which is evident in their sparkling interplay.
The set opened with the new album's title track, "Here's My Heart Come Take It", a brooding and cautionary tale of the risk of a lack of commitment in affairs of the heart, which featured a majestic vocal from Rachel, rippling harp and feathery flourishes of fiddle. Rachel then sang captivatingly in Gaelic on "Gura Mise Tha Fo Mhulad", a traditional Scots ballad which tells the story of a man's refusal to acknowledge his former sweetheart once she has borne him a child. Lauren contributed a plaintively beautiful fiddle solo and gentle vocal harmonies on this one. The tragic murder ballad, "The Bloody Gardener", was propelled along by rhythmically insistent harp and irresistible percussion and featured a fiery fiddle solo in the middle. The country-tinged "Don't Go Out" drew a beautifully understated vocal and a poignant harp solo from Rachel, with the flugelhorn part on the album track played flawlessly by Lauren on fiddle. The rhythmic and punchy take on the traditional ballad "Proud Mairsie" was a real tour de force, with the fiddle weaving in and out of the complex and quicksilver harp chords and runs. Not quite folk-rock, as one reviewer has apparently described it, but stirring stuff all the same!
Another highlight from the new album was the American folk song, "Lost Babe", which was notable for a delicate vocal, soft ripples of harp and a graceful fiddle solo. Rachel has written a strikingly beautiful melody to grace Sir Walter Scott's tender love ballad, "One Hour With Thee", and her elegant vocals and sublime harp refrain, overlaid by some more deft fiddle work, complemented Scott's poetry perfectly.
There were some older favourites too, with the first album represented by Rachel's eerily beautiful take on the Hank Williams classic, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry". The trio also demonstrated their considerable individual and collective musical chops on the exhilarating tune sets "The Changeling Reel" and "Up The Lum", both of which feature on the "Changeling" album. For the encore, the trio served up Rachel's innovative and poignant reading of Dolly Parton's "Jolene", which explored the helplessness, as opposed to the anger, of the wronged woman in the song. For someone who is only too happy to admit her attraction to fairly dark and bleak subject matter in the songs she interprets, Rachel Newton proved to be an engaging and cheery individual, who provided added entertainment through her lively and good-natured banter with her band-mates.
Rachel Newton's undoubted gifts as a singer, musician, composer and arranger will ensure that she continues to be an asset to the bands she is currently involved with and in demand as a collaborator in other musical projects. Her stunning new album, together with outstanding live performances like this one, can only add to her already considerable reputation as one of the brightest solo artists in the UK's contemporary folk scene.
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