Rachel Newton – To The Awe: Album Review

Rachel Newton pays tribute to the women who’ve inspired and shaped her on To The Awe.

Release date: 6th November 2020

Label: Shadowside Records

Format: CD / DL

Also influenced by her recent work on the representation of women in the music industry, it would certainly qualify as one of Alan Partridge’s ‘hot topics’. Aside from her contribution to the likes of The Shee and The Furrow Collective, shes an active campaigner for equality and diversity in folk and traditional music and is making a mark as a solo performer in her own right. Within spitting distance, I have three solo works, all of which have been beautifully constructed and played.

To The Awe is based on Centuries-old poems and ballads which have been re-worked into contemporary stylings. For a musician versed in what we’d term folk music, the opening of The Early Morning is as far from the genre as you could imagine. Sounds more akin to world music emerge – which having said all that, folk music might be classed as the core of world music. That’s until we hear the familiar story of Lady Isabel And The Elf Knight added to the soundscape and like the heroine of the tale, Rachel takes a similarly bold stance.

Similarly, bubbling rhythms abound on Chadil Mi A-Raoir air an Airigh where the fighting qualities of a spirited lady mirror those of Lady Isabel. By contrast, there are plenty of haunting atmospheres and a sense of openness and space about the arrangements whihc offer an ethereal experience at times.

There’s the bold move to include two improvisational pieces: I Will Go from Rachel and Lauren MacColl and Life And Light where she’s joined by Mikey Owers. Both are of the ‘hold your breath and see where this goes’ type, suitably and delicately crafted and shaped. Botha re also ever so brief and I can’t be the only one who would have loved to hear more of these little vignettes peppering the album.

The title track is based on the poem by Felicia Hemans, The Rock Of Cader Idris that tells of the Welsh tradition that whoever survives a night at the rock will awake with new creative inspiration – take note… It’s a gentle and flowing piece that matches the barren and beautiful landscape of the Welsh wilderness

By the time Would You Be Young Again is playing out, carried by Mikey Owers’ horns, it acts as a reminder to go right back to the start and listen out for his contributions which you may have missed. Talking of contributors and collaborators, drummer and co-producer Mattie Foulds is a strong presence on an album, like many, that’s been a product of time in lockdown/isolation. The sleevenotes bear the remarkable comment: “vocals recorded in my bedroom wardrobe” – a triumph in times of adversity.

To The Awe is another inventive and confidently innovative piece of work, fully justifying the claim as “the sound of modern Scotland”

Listen to the title track here:

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