ALBUM OF THE DAY
Zara McFarlane, “Songs Of An Unknown Tongue”
By John Morrison · July 13, 2020 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

On “Everything is Connected,” the opening song from her new album, Songs From An Unknown Tongue, UK jazz singer Zara McFarlane explores the vast web of life. “The branches that reach out to grab you/ Interweaving through/ Sacred moments/ Intertwining through your hopes and dreams,” she sings. With its rolling, reggae-rooted drum and bass groove anchoring McFarlane’s vocals, the song is a beautifully crafted exploration of the metaphysical. It also serves as a handy summary of what’s to follow: McFarlane’s work exists in the continuum of spiritually charged, cosmically minded jazz vocalists like Andy Bey, Leon Thomas, and June Tyson. “My Story” is full of lovely vocal harmonies, bass and percussion, but amidst these elements, McFarlane leads listeners into a journey of triumph and self-discovery, reminding them that “As we turn, we turn the pages, we have to tell a brand new story.”

With its spacey synths, deep bassline, and utopian atmosphere, “State Of Mind” occupies a stylistic space similar to London’s ’00s-era broken beat/future jazz sound: swelling synth chords open the song, then McFarlane enters with a dynamic vocal melody, singing, “You’ve got me caught in your rhythm.” Clocking in at nearly seven-and-a-half minutes, “Roots Of Freedom” opens with a regal, cosmic-sounding brass fanfare; then the song’s bass-heavy groove kicks in, setting the stage for McFarlane to ruminate on ancestry and revolution. Connecting the dots between jazz, reggae, and a host of African-diasporic music, Songs From An Unknown Tongue conveys profound truths in a jubilant musical setting.

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