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Zara McFarlane: Until Tomorrow (2011)

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Zara McFarlane: Until Tomorrow How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Until Tomorrow, from young London-based singer and writer Zara McFarlane, is a delight. This is not McFarlane's first recording—her 2010 self-produced six-track EP, also called Until Tomorrow, debuted some of these songs, and she has also recorded with the Jazz Jamaica All Stars—but it's her first full-length album. Filled with fresh and beautifully crafted compositions, it signals McFarlane's maturing talents as a singer and songwriter with a distinctive take on the art of the song.

McFarlane is no bluesy shouter, but she is most definitely a soulful singer. Her voice moves effortlessly from the plaintive yearning of "More Than Mine," through the slinky soul of "Blossom Tree" and "Chiaroscuro," to the pure and crystalline sounds of "Waking Sleep." There's often a childlike innocence and honesty to her performance, making her a consistently engaging singer. Her lyric,; with their tales of lost love, sadness, romance and sensuality, are equally engaging—all the more so because they have an air of mystery, often hinting at a narrative but leaving the listener to complete the story.

On "Mama Done" McFarlane delivers a flurry of lyrics—part sung and part rapped and occasionally threatening to overwhelm the singer—over a tight Latin-tinged groove from pianist Peter Edwards, bassist Nick Walsh and drummer Andy Chapman."Until Tomorrow" benefits from a relatively sparse arrangement: delicate and spacious playing from Walsh and Chapman, over which McFarlane's voice floats with sparkling clarity. It also features the album's finest solo, a dazzlingly emotive performance from Edwards. The three saxophonists are used sparingly but effectively. The soft, lyrical, solo on "Blossom Tree" and the more frenetic one on "Chiaroscuro" are especially noteworthy—sadly, the players' individual contributions are uncredited on the promotional copy of the album.

McFarlane also interprets—and slightly re-titles—two tunes written by Harry Whitaker, best known for his work with Roberta Flack: "The Children & The Warlock" and "Thoughts." McFarlane's versions stay close musically to Whitaker's own, but her lyrics and vocals give both tunes added depth.

"Feed The Spirit (The Children & The Warlock)" lets the whole band stretch out, giving the singer's emotionally intense vocal a strong, punchy backing. By contrast, McFarlane's beautiful rendition of "Waking Sleep (Thoughts)" is intense and perfectly measured. The vocal on her own "More Than Mine" is equally intense and affecting, but the backing is freer and builds its intensity over time to convey the singer's despair.

In this collection of beautiful and affecting songs, "Blossom Tree" is the most immediately engaging—a potential standard in the making. But Until Tomorrow is filled with musical treasures, waiting to be discovered.

Track Listing: More Than Mine; Captured (part 3); Mama Done; Until Tomorrow; Blossom Tree; Feed The Spirit (The Children & The Warlock); Waking Sleep (Thoughts); Chiaroscuro; Desire; More Than Mine (alternate take).

Personnel: Zara McFarlane: vocals; Binker Goldings: saxophone; Camilla George: saxophone; Zem Adu: saxophone; Peter Edwards: piano; Nick Walsh: double bass; Andy Chapman: drums.

Record Label: Brownswood Recordings


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