Singer and Harpist Rachel Newton is about to crown the impressive array of projects she’s been involved in over the last couple of years with the release of her third solo album – Here’s My Heart Come Take It. A founder member of The Furrow Collective, The Emily Portman Trio and The Shee, Rachel was also part of the eight strong pool of talent responsible for the highly regarded Elizabethan Session and has recently enjoyed further acclaim with the Scottish/Norwegian band Boreas. Rachel is a prolific musician and composer whose boundless energy seems to be matched only by an equally inexhaustible creativity.
Although also proficient on violin, viola and piano; it’s as a harpist that Rachel Newton’s particular talent shines brightest. In each of those projects she’s contributed to, the unique sound wrought by her combination of traditional clàrsach and adventurous electroharp has been a defining factor. Her exacting and captivating bass rhythms are something of a trade mark, and her ability to explore a theme to an adventurous extent, with apparent ease and an approach that values expression above flair, make her one of the most sought-after musicians on the UK trad music scene. In addition to her instrumental achievements, Rachel’s also blessed with a unique plaintive and highly expressive singing voice.
In her solo projects, Rachel takes those flashes and passages of brilliance and applies them to her own choice of traditional and contemporary songs and her own compositions. The Shadow Side in 2012 and Changeling in 2014 were both widely praised and it’s in collaboration with her regular touring companions, fiddler Lauren MacColl and drummer/producer Mattie Foulds, that Rachel has recorded her third solo album.
The deep bass of Rachel’s electroharp and a sombre piano open the album with the title track, Here’s My Heart Come Take It. As the sound expands to support Rachel’s arresting voice; keyboards, drums and a disconsolate fiddle build tension. There’s no sense of urgency, though, in the layers of laconic vocal as drums and strings echo a fickle lover’s devastation.
The song and melody themselves, laying aside Rachel’s intense arrangement, sound as authentic as a ballad from any UK collection. Rachel’s always keen to cite her sources though, and we learn from the sleeve notes that this is the first of three tracks on the album taken from The Max Hunter Collection; an archive of Ozark Mountain folk songs, recorded between 1956 and 1976.
In acknowledgment of her love for country music, Rachel revisits the same collection for two more songs. Don’t Go Out Tonight My Darling is more usually heard as an up tempo bluegrass number, despite the unhappy topic. Here, however, the song enjoys an arrangement that, while staying true to the original source in terms of melody, is mournfully adapted for Rachel’s harp and voice. Similarly Poor Lost Babe, in Rachel’s hands, provides a stark contrast to its mountain origins. With a minimal harp bass line, the mollifying drone of Lauren’s fiddle and Rachel’s beautifully structured vocal it soothes like a lullaby. Both of these tracks also benefit from an inspired addition to Rachel’s arrangements; a warm wash of gentle brass from Michael Owers (Young Pilgrims, Questio Io). It’s a minor change that adds a wholesome new dimension.
Those incredible harp bass notes are always a favourite of Rachel’s, and it’s easy to see why. Along with Mattie’s brushed snare they provide a more vigorous pace as The Trans-Atlantic thread winds all the way back to the Outer Hebrides; with a waulking song from the collection of Margaret Fay Shaw, Gura Mise Tha Fo Mhulad (I Am Full of Sorrow). Snatches of string melody, on both harp and fiddle intertwine with the vocal until Rachel and Lauren join forces towards the end in a glorious duet. South to Skye, for the other Gaelic contribution to the album, the heart-rending lament Chaidh Mo Dhonnchadh Dhan Bheinn (My Duncan Went to the Hill). A mist comes in from the sea on a single drone. Amid faint radio signals, a piano as searchlight, and with an eerie fiddle on the wind, Rachel delivers a mournfully passionate vocal. A single, closing bass note links directly to the captivating keyboard driven beat of Proud Maisrie.
Taking folk rock in an entirely new direction that seems to owe as much to Tangerine Dream as it does to Shirley Collins, the beats come in waves; amid layered vocal, a clash of drumsticks and an extended harp/fiddle outro. Proud Maisrie isn’t the only representative of English language balladry on the album. The haunting opening of The Bloody Gardener exudes a bleak, Nordic chill until those enthralling bass notes on the harp are joined by toms and cymbals. As the horror unfolds a bass drum joins the toms and Lauren’s fiddle provides unearthly chatter and a spine-tingling chill as a prelude to its breath-taking drama.
There’s a more soothing combination to close the album. Sir Walter Scott’s An Hour With Thee is set to Rachel’s own lilting melody. Nestled among the elegance of Scott’s verses, a pair of harp/fiddle duets, fraught with longing. One Hour More follows, with a gentle, dreamy melody that could easily be imagined as a period match for the preceding poem. As the pace drops, piece by perfect piece, the album draws to a close on a soft, sleepy, satisfying note.
It’s testament to Rachel’s ingenuity and her understanding of British folk music, from several regions, that she can envisage, arrange and record an album as impressive as this. Not as conceptual as Changeling, and a more thorough examination of traditional music than The Shadow Side, Here’s My Heart Come Take It could be viewed as Rachel’s tribute to those traditions. Mattie Foulds, as always, should be applauded not only for his intricate and empathetic percussion, but for his role of producer; interpreting Rachel’s vision with an unparalleled breadth of texture and scope. It would be impossible to place too high a value on Lauren MacColl’s contributions on fiddle, displaying a quite astonishing range of voices; while the occasional augmentation from Michael Owers’ brass offers a perfect, soft counterpoint to Rachel’s plaintive vocal and injects those tracks with a warmth that could never have been achieved otherwise.
I was utterly transfixed by Here’s My Heart Come Take It, from the opening moments of my very first listen; and continue to be by every subsequent visit. It’s an album that enthrals and entrances the senses, places traditional song under a fascinating new spotlight and confirms Rachel Newton as one of our most original and gifted interpreters of those traditions.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
Here’s My Heart Come Take It is released 15 April 2016
Upcoming Rachel Newton Trio Dates
12th – Rachel Newton Trio @ Star Folk Club (The Admiral Bar), GLASGOW
13th – Rachel Newton Trio @ House Concert, EDINBURGH (contact Rachel for more info)
15th – Rachel Newton Trio @ King’s Place, LONDON (ALBUM LAUNCH)
16th – Rachel Newton Trio @ BowerHouse, MAIDSTONE
17th – Rachel Newton Trio and Emily Portman Trio @ Folk Weekend Oxford
8th – Rachel Newton Trio @ Newton Stewart & Minnigaff Traditional Music Festival, DUMFRIES & GALLOWAY
For all Tour Dates and Details visit: