With a woman now second-in-command in the White House, this album is timely. Harpist Rachel Newton- BBC Radio 2 Folk Award Musician of the Year - places women at the centre of her narratives. From the young maiden to the Cailleach, she explores womanhood in its various life stages.
Female empowerment is the undercurrent throughout, from our protagonist in the opening track taking revenge on a murderous man, to the exploration of other worlds, lifestyles, and the place often accorded to women in folk songs, as little more than a ‘fair maiden’. Newton takes us on a journey to prove the female psyche is more, so much more, than skin deep.
Rachel herself has said that this album is a tribute to the women who have inspired her and influenced her work; in particular, her representation of women in the music industry. Her work is sincerely poetic. Her songs are lyrical ballads. She is a wonderful storyteller in the old Gaelic tradition.
Reaching back into the past to find poems and ballads hundreds of years old, then working them into a contemporary compositional style unique to Newton, a talented Harpist in her own right.
The title track ‘To The Awe’ is based on the poem ‘The Rock Of Cader Idris’ by Felicia Hemans – invoking the old Welsh tradition that whoever survives a night spent at the rock will meet their muse and awake with new creative inspiration. She draws on the expertise of her tried and trusted collaborators that worked with her on the Scottish Album of the Year Shortlisted ‘Here’s My Heart, Come Take It’ – drummer and co-producer Mattie Foulds, violinist Lauren McColl, horn player Mickey Owers and Sarah Hayes on backing vocals.
Newton made the most of the first lockdown in April and May 2020 to record this album:
It was a challenging album to make, but ultimately a vital connection with others in a strange and uncertain time.
The multi-talented harpist is also a founder member of The Shee, The Furrow Collective, and The Lost Words: Spell Songs. As co-founder of the Bit Collective, a group focusing on equality and diversity in folk and traditional music, she’s been at the forefront of taking the place of women in music forward.
The content of the album reflects her strong feminist views, with a willowy, divine voice never straying too far from the feminine in the true sense of the word. This is the sound of a modern Scotland, where Sturgeon holds the reigns and where the Celtic folk tradition is as strong as it ever was.
‘To The Awe’ is a beautiful album to not just enjoy – hopefully it will also engage the grey matter.