It’s a tough task for music critics to write about a singer that genuinely knocks their socks off. Zara McFarlane is the London based singer, who, in 2011 released Until Tomorrow, a debut album that had many critics in a spin. Sure, praise came thick and fast. They spoke of a caressing voice of sparkling clarity, a voice that was warm and powerful, and of a singer who sang with childlike innocence and womanly assertiveness in equal measure. But perhaps what critics missed amongst the hail of praise, is something altogether different – the arrival of an original songwriter and performer of true stature. For McFarlane, it’s about her point of difference. What sets her apart isn’t her voice, distinctive as it is, but what she has to say as, and how she says it.
McFarlane inhabits a less trodden musical landscape. Her performance brings to mind a vocal world more akin to early Nina Simone and Roberta Flack’s ‘First Take’, than to Ella and the great American songbook. Many of her tunes possess power and an underlying spirituality reminiscent of the ‘spiritual jazz’ movement of 70’s black America.
f You Knew Her is Zara McFarlane’s follow-up album on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings. This new, emotionally charged body of work sees her blossoming as a lyrically conscious songwriter, cementing what Until Tomorrow revealed – an artist composing original songs, telling her own stories (a rarity among jazz singers), demanding attention for their daring brilliance. Eight of the eleven songs are beautifully crafted originals, which, says Zara, “collectively explores emotive stories of beauty, passion, love, vulnerability, empathy, boldness, directness and sensuality. Inspired by the many vibrant, amazing, charismatic black women in my life, it’s an album that celebrates the strength of women, from the alpha female to the housewife.”
Aside from her own compositions, the album includes some unexpected covers including a wonderful jazz reworking of “Police and Thieves”, the Junior Murvin classic. “Angie La La”, the lesser known cult classic from Nora Dean features NYC‘s Leron Thomas on trumpeter and vocals and will be the album’s first single.