Originally gathered to offer their musical take on some of Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane’s musings on our ever changing language in their book, The Lost Words: A Spell Book, Spell Songs have reconvened in order to convey their musical musings on the pair’s latest book, The Lost Spells. The collective (Karine Polwart, Julie Fowlis, Seckou Keita, Kris Drever, Rachel Newton, Beth Porter and Jim Molyneux) were highly acclaimed on their first release and Let The Light In looks set to gain yet more accolades as its, ahem, spellbinding songs and performance look to gather pace with a series of live shows set to follow on from the album release.
The 15 songs here tap into current concerns re the environment and dovetail into a back to nature movement which has traditionally been associated with folk music and various campaigns against the destruction of our habitat. Each song celebrates creatures and plants which have long been a part of our diversified flora and fauna, many of them now endangered. While the album is solidly folk tradition at its roots, the players utilise studio to add layers of sound and effects, culminating in an album which is quite astounding to listen to. It’s both ancient and modern, it traverses borders and summons earth spirits throughout. The ensemble are electrifying at times as when they weld Afro and Celtic music on Jay, a magnificent song with Seckou Keita engaging in call and response with the massed female singers. Kris Drever’s Red Is Your Art darts and dips like a murmuration of starlings and, likewise, Swifts, a vocal duet from Drever and Rachel Newton gambols along quite merrily. The sinewy Oak, again featuring Drever, is rooted within a deep tradition of folk songs saluting the power of nature and the turn of the seasons.
Karine Polwart’s Bramble is cloaked in mystery and wonder, its woody timbre and martial drums enlivened by snippets of voice which are almost cartoonish in nature. As the band nimbly flutter and caress the song, it flows gently into Julie Fowlis’ St. Kilda Wren, sung in Gaelic and invoking ancient spirits. Beth Porter’s Gorse is a quite magical and fantastical voyage into a speckled wonderland – frosty and childlike, it transports the listener into memories of shadow land fairy tales. With Polwart singing supremely on the tip-toed delight of Moth and Fowlis delivering yet another wintry tale on Silver Birch, another song cloaked in wonder and mystery, Spell Songs have certainly delivered a spell binding and enchanting listen.