Songs inspired by inward reflection and solitude during lockdown from Rhona Macfarlane.
Release Date: 12th November 2021
Label: Self Release
I love it when a rich new talent is brought to my attention and I’m given the opportunity to share the news of what I’ve just discovered with At The Barrier’s followers. It’s happened again – just this afternoon – when I spent a pleasant 20-ish minutes absorbing myself in the delightful new EP – Closing The Window – from Glasgow singer/songwriter, Rhona Macfarlane. Closing The Window isn’t the first collection of songs of inward reflection, inspired by the solitude of lockdown that has come my way over the past 14 months or so, but it’s certainly up there with the best.
Rhona has been making quite a few waves up in her native Scotland and elsewhere. Closing The Window is her second EP collection – it follows The Tide (2017) and a couple of the EP’s songs, Better When You’re Around and No Rain, have already been garnering support and airplay from a number of Scottish Radio channels. She’s also had an invitation to perform live on BBC Radio Scotland’s Janice Forsyth Show and recently achieved a top ten placing (out of 1,500 entrants) in the Liverpool International Song for Kindness Competition – an achievement that earned her a performance slot on the Cavern Club stage. She’s yet another alumnus of The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, following the likes of Graham Rorie and his Gnoss accomplices onto the pages of At The Barrier, and she names Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, John Martyn and The Blue Nile amongst her many musical influences.
Production duties for Closing the Window have been discharged by Matt Ingram, whose CV includes work with Laura Marling and Lianne LaHavas, and he’s done a remarkable job of giving Rhona’s personal and introspective songs a bright, immediate sparkle that really draws the listener in, and his integration of Rhona’s string arrangements is spot-on.
And, as for the songs themselves – well, as Rhona explains: “These reflective and personal songs draw on stories of everyday human experiences which capture themes of love, family, vulnerability, loss and time, while still maintaining a strong sense of hope and acceptance. All the songs deal with emotional restraint and observe how different people deal with their emotions.” That’s a pretty good summary of the material on offer here, and it’s a recipe that makes for rewarding listening.
First single, the well-received Better When You’re Around gets the show on the road. In a song that reminds me (somewhat) of Sandy Denny’s Who Knows Where The Time Goes, Rhona introduces us to her wonderful, clear, melodic voice, to an accompaniment of strummed 12-string guitar, mellow bass, soft percussion and some nice piano touches. The lyrics are happy and reassuring, as they consider the pleasure and security that the company of a loved one can offer, even during the most challenging of circumstances.
The poignant No Rain, the EP’s second single, encourages us to search for those chinks of light that are usually there, even during the most seemingly impossible situations; the idea for the song came from a passing remark from someone who had just lost their life partner, when she said “Well – at least there’s no rain outside…” Rhona’s string arrangements make their first appearance and the influence of Joni Mitchell is apparent, particularly in the song’s ‘stream of consciousness’ lyrical style.
Rhona describes the third track Black Wall as “a lament about going through inner turmoil after loss.” Rhona’s string arrangement is inspired by the wild landscape, the battering winds and the fresh air of the Isle of Harris, the place of her family origins; it’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit (and, one day, I will…) and those strings, especially as the whole string section cuts in at the track’s mid-point, have really sharpened my longing to make that trip! The tune is evocative of the traditional Flowers of the Forest and builds pleasantly from a simple, drone-like, acoustic guitar to a full-on production, with those wonderful strings, that sends shivers down the spine.
The collection’s title track (and final track) Closing The Window was inspired by the Carol Ann Duffy poem, Empty Nest and deals with the challenges of family relationships – growing up, controlling emotions, showing emotions and letting go of support at the right time. They’re challenges that most of us have had to face at some point and with which many of us have struggled if we’re honest and brave enough to admit it. A sharp drum pattern, subtle strings and soft piano provide the backing for what is, perhaps, Rhona’s best vocal performance on the EP.
Rhona Macfarlane was a new name to me before this morning. She isn’t anymore, and I’ve got a real inkling that Closing The Window is going to be something that does, in fact, open quite a lot of doors for Rhona Macfarlane.
Watch Rhona Macfarlane perform Better When You’re Around – the EP’s opening track – here: