Zara McFarlane releases her third album in September 2017. The album, titled “Arise,” will feature the single, “Fussin’ and Fightin’.” The song is an example of jazz/dub fusion that pays homage to the singer’s Jamaican heritage, and captures the delicate, yet resonant qualities of the female singing voice.
About Zara McFarlane
Zara McFarlane is a London-based singer-songwriter. Her parents are Jamaican. It is the influence of her parents homeland that seems to permeate her new work. McFarlane’s UK education includes earning degrees in music performance, music theater, and a master’s degree in jazz studies.
The strength of McFarlane’s work is not found in rigid jazz compositions. Her work is fluid, but not without structure. Her topics appeal to a broad spectrum of people, and McFarlane’s lyrics have the potential for multiple meanings.
The Sound of Zara McFarlane
An organ shimmers, then swells to open “Fussin’ and Fightin’.” Percussion shakes and buzzes work to underscore the lyrical content. The instrumentation and vocals have a definite reggae feel. Even so, there is a smoothness to the work that isn’t always present in reggae. Interesting, too, is the way backing vocals are a step, or half-step higher than McFarlane’s lead vocals that will remind some listeners of Lauryn Hill.
“Fussin’ and Fightin'” by Zara McFarlane
McFarlane paints a picture either of domestic discord, or political unrest. The lyrics work either way. Except for when McFarlane refers to the world “sighing.” Then the song seems to be solely about political difficulties.
Before the organ and shaker percussion come in, drums set the song into motion. “Fussin’ and Fightin'” is deceptively smooth for a song about discord–of any kind. If a listener is not paying attention, she might mistake this for a light tune. Whether the actual topic involves individuals in a domestic dispute, or national unrest, the ramifications are serious.
While the instrumentation is interesting and multi-layered (the piano toward the end is particularly haunting), the vocals are worth exploring further. Words like “soulful” and “poignant” fall flat when ascribing them to “Fussin’ and Fightin’.” Maybe a phrase like “ethereal soul” does a better job of capturing the sound of the vocals.
For the first part of the chorus, McFarlane sings and backup singers offer a high-pitched, but resonant, “Ah!” They echo her later in the chorus. The contradictory sound of the backing vocals adds texture and depth to the song.
The fusion between dub and jazz is not entirely new. But where McFarlane raises the bar is in the area of meaningful lyrics that could have depth of meaning for a range of audiences, and in terms of vocal arrangements. The arrangement here makes “Fussin’ and Fightin'” a true original and a pleasure to listen to.