Rachel Newton – West

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

There is a special power and a particular pleasure to be found in solo instrument recordings. Grace, beauty, art and the bravery of having nowhere to hide or nothing to hide behind. Rachel Newton, Singer, Harpist and 2017 BBC Radio Two Folk Award Musician of the Year, brings a fine voice and mastery of the Harp to her music. Her playing on the acoustic harp and the electroharp is rhythmic and confident. “Gura Muladach Sgith Mi” and “Maid of Neidpath” place Rachel’s clear and resonant harp alongside her fine singing voice, with Gaelic lyrics and words by Walter Scott. Instrumentals like “Suilven”, one of Rachel’s own compositions, give her playing room to breathe and fill the room with beauty. “Once I Had a Sweetheart” is a traditional song I knew from The Pentangle and Rachel from the singing and playing of Peggy Seeger. Rachel’s version, with some lovely Harp passages is a joy to hear. On “Hi Horo’s na Horo Eile” and “The Skye Air”, Rachel’s playing is slow, with the ringing phrases spaced, sounding at times like an atmospheric music box. Beautiful songs like “For Love” and “A Token” are intercut with shorter but equally lovely instrumentals. “A Token” collected in Arkansas places a dark Folk country lyric over an emotional harp part. From the expansive sleeve photos showing Rachel brandishing her harp like a musical lightning rod in an Achnahaird landscape, under an emotional sky, there is a strong sense of place. The album was recorded in Rachel’s grandparents house in Wester Ross, Achnahaird. Rachel raised in Edinburgh, spent holidays up north in her second home at Wester Ross, so this place has great significance. A personal place to record a personal album with the music a response to the landscape at its resonance with Rachel. The harp is at its insistent most guitar like for Jolene the surprise closer. Rachel’s voice carries the Country classic well and her Harp playing delivers the songs rhythm well. It’s not a novelty extra, rather it’s further proof of the interconnectedness of music played by Folk on both sides of The Atlantic and a, strong end to an album that both stimulates and soothes.