Listen Whilst you read:
Trad followers will be all too familiar with the work of Rachel Newton, a multi talented musician able to actualise modern arrangements of classic folk ballads and poems in both Gaelic and English. In recent years she has been a prolific collector of awards: instrumentalist of the Year 2016 at the Scots Trad Music Awards and Musician of the Year in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2017 to name but a few.
An active campaigner of woman's rights in the Trad & Folk music scene, the release this month of her 5th album "To The Awe" focuses on woman's experiences. Using ancient folk texts and Poems from a variety of sources, Rachel Newton combines the sounds of traditional folk music mixed, melodic brass arrangements and rhythmic percussion & drums to explore both the challenges and triumphs of womanhood.
The album sources its name from an early 19th century Welsh poem "The Rock of Cader Idris" by Felicia Hemans which explores both the complexity and strength of a woman's spirit as she vanquishes nature's stormy onslaughts a top of a bleak mountain perch:
"And, as from the grave, I awoke to inherit
A flame all immortal, a voice, and a power !"
Musically the album creates a unique sound where electro harp & string melodies are delicately framed within Mikey Owers horn arrangements. None more so than in the track "We will listen," an homage to the much maligned Victorian, Lincolnshire poet, Jean Ingelow and Susan Coolidge's (American author 1835-1905) later acknowledgement of her work in the face of her dismissive contemporaries:
"She stood amid the morning dew/And sang her earliest measure sweet/Sang as the lark sings, speeding fair/to touch and taste the purer air."
There is only one Gaelic ballad: "Chaidil Mi A-Raoir air an Airigh" - a long harp intro with the wistful fiddle of Lauren MacColl leads into a hi tempo electro style beat wrapping around the Gaelic vocals.
Produced together with Mattie Foulds (also percussion & drums on the album), and, interestingly during lockdown during May-June, this is a concept album for our time which extends our musical ear beyond Trad and cliché folk. And for the literati's there is much research that can be made into the origins and meanings of each ballad.
Whilst the album is available digitally on all streaming platforms - there is a carefully crafted CD version for all lovers of the "hard copy" with interesting notes and artwork to discover and decipher!
Further Links & Reading: