This reviewer feels slightly sad and nostalgic sitting listening to the treat of Redbeard’s album spilling digitally from the laptop. The artwork shown in tiny reproduction on the screen looks as if it would be beautiful printed onto a heavy matte card, and the density of the music calls compellingly for the weight of vinyl, the way music used to come… ah, well, the future’s bright, as they say. But this collection of songs looks directly into days gone by, calling on a wealth of musical influences, inspirations and forefathers to create a lush and tender album.
The tracks keep to the same general concept of a simple instrumentation over mostly picked guitar, to support and balance the timbre of Rick ‘Redbeard’ Anthony’s voice. His words tell of loves, loss and leavings, celebrations of bonnie lassies, and of Scottish glens. There’s a peaceful quality to the songs, a satisfyingly poignant sigh.
The album opens with a haunting pedal on a shruti-box, delicately inviting us to hear Redbeard’s thoughts, his voice swimming up from past lives, setting up the traditional sounds he chooses for the album. The rich qualities of his voice support his words: on ‘Old Blue’ he evokes scenes of old country, Scottish landscapes, time as something to treasure as “we give it away so cheap.”
The instrumentation is delicate on all tracks, moving from the simple piano accompaniment on ‘We All Float’, to the waltzing movement of the gorgeous ‘A Greater Brave’, with ululating backing vocals by sister Jo. The final, title track has a precious quality, his message that “only love can change a selfish heart” ringing achingly true.
At times, I am reminded of Alasdair Roberts’ Appendix Out days, at other points Jason Molina’s dark musings from Songs:Ohia. There is a clear acceptance of the bleak and barren sides of life, but what is satisfying about this record is how warm and content it makes the listener feel. A stand-out track is ‘Cold as Clay (The Grave)’, with Redbeard’s Scottish accent artfully rendering the listener helpless but to hear his dark tale of obsession and desperation. His storytelling bleeds tradition, a nod to the Scottish greats – James Hogg, Alasdair Gray – and he creates with a deft hand.
This shift away from The Phantom Band has certainly produced a record worth taking to your heart, and I envisage listening in a bothy, the fire crackling, the peaty whisky breathing quietly. Redbeard reveals himself in this record, and appears, “wearing just [his] beard and a smile.”