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RACHEL NEWTON - The Shadow Side

RACHEL NEWTON - The Shadow Side
Private Label SHEERACH1

This is the debut solo album by the harpist/vocalist on Dear Someone (2008), then (as Rachel And Lillias) in duet with Lillias Kinsman-Blake, both of whom subsequently became vital parts of The Shee.

It skilfully combines six songs (two sung in Gaelic) with five instrumentals. All of the latter are Rachel’s own compositions and the songs, deeply steeped in folk jeopardy (e.g. Lady Diamond and Must I Be Bound), are all her own very distinctive arrangements of traditional material and Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.

Kris Drever, who co-arranged and sings on Green Willow with Rachel, provides discrete and empathetic guitar/mandolin to some tracks and there is a little additional percussion (Mattie Foulds). Rachel herself also adds some fiddle and harmonium. Above all though, the album reveals her compositional nous, wide musical sensibility, and sophisticated harp virtuosity.

Thus, firstly, the tracks are skilfully organised to offer dynamic variety. Then, the pieces and their parts are beautifully executed using the wide range of textures, moods and sounds that can be drawn from the harp and electro-harp. Rachel’s contribution to The Shee has shown her ability to combine and layer the full sonic spectrum and rhythmic potential of harps to great effect. That skill is so very evident here, from sparkly ringing harmonics and intricate high end trebly detail through to warm blanketing chordal bass backdrops.

Now part of the Emily Portman trio, Rachel is also playing with Macmaster/Hay in gigs to launch their new album Hook. As with that release, Rachel’s compositions, particularly on the songs, captivate in their confidently sparing and spacious quality. Likewise the layering of sounds, combined with sequences of crisp rhythmic and precise propulsive playing, offer plenty of atmosphere and arresting interest.

Kevin T. Ward

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This album was reviewed in Issue 93 of The Living Tradition magazine.