Jazz Albums:

If You Knew Her

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If You Knew Her is Zara McFarlane’s second 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”.

If You Knew Her is a courageous step forward for McFarlane, not only lyrically, but musically. Over half the tracks are stripped bare, revealing Zara’s voice in all its variety and subtlety. Leaving her full trio behind, she performs in different settings, most poignantly with just understated accompaniment from the dazzling pianist Peter Edwards or, as on the album’s opening masterpiece, Open Heart, with just bass and hang. Yet when she employs her full impressive band, magic is made. Woman in the Olive Groves, one of the album’s stand-out tracks, is a spellbinding thought-provoking song, and a standard in the making. Aside from her own compositions, the album includes some unexpected covers including a wonderful jazz reworking of Police and Thieves, the Junior Murvin classic. Released with an accompanying video to celebrate 50 years of Jamaican independence, it became an immediate fan-favorite and radio-choice already notching up over 37,000 views on YouTube. 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.


The title doesn't refer strictly to its maker. MOBO-nominated jazz producer, songwriter, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist Zara McFarlane: “This album is dedicated to all the strong, beautiful women who have touched my life with their strength, courage, empathy, humour, wisdom & love.” Those women seem to have had the greatest effect on McFarlane originals like the burning ballad “Woman in the Olive Groves” and the particularly gorgeous “Her Eyes,” in which McFarlane's breezy melodies resemble those of ‘70s Stevie Wonder. Some of the arrangements are stripped to bare essentials. Those happen to occur during the album's most emotionally vulnerable moments. “Open Heart” begins the album in arresting style with hypnotic hang drums, a low double-bass thrum, and McFarlane's wou­nded, wise vocals. On “You'll Get Me in Trouble,” McFarlane accompanies herself on barely strummed acoustic guitar: “It's too late, my heart's already seen your smile.” While the eight originals could form a rich 35-minute album, the three non-originals here stun, too. There's a bewitching “Plain Gold Ring” closer to restrained Nina Simone than showy Kimbra, a version of Junior Murvin's “Police & Thieves” that makes like a missing ice-and-fire cut off Dee Dee Bridgewater's Afro Blue, and top standout “Angie La La” (aka “Ay Ay Ay Ay”), barely recognizable. The last of the trio, originally written and produced by reggae giant Duke Reid for Nora Dean, is converted into a dancing and feverish duet – anchored by Gavin Barras’ double bass and enlivened by Rachel Gladwin's harp – with an excellent pairing in trumpeter and vocalist Leron Thomas. As with Until Tomorrow, McFarlane produced the whole thing – an understated yet dazzling second album that is more imaginative than the impressive first.
All Music Guide – Andy Kellman

Track Listing:

Disc 1:
  1. Open Heart
  2. Her Eyes
  3. Move
  4. You’ll Get Me In Trouble
  5. Police and Thieves
  6. Spinning Wheel
  7. Plain Gold Ring
  8. Angie La La feat. Leron Thomas
  9. The Games We Played
  10. Woman In The Olive Groves
  11. Love
Release date Australia
June 20th, 2014
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