Album Review / The Lost Words: Spell Songs

The story behind this unique collaborative album is little short of amazing. Because it has been beautifully described elsewhere, I simply refer you to https://www.thelostwords.org/spell-songs/ for full information on what this endeavor is about, how it got started and who are involved. I recommend visiting that site very much because it’s also about The Lost Words book that’s the source of the album.

Karine Polwart and Julie Fowlis are the best-known musicians in the project but it’s a very collective affair indeed. All other singers, including Kris Drever and Rachel Newton among others, deliver strong performances but for me, the real star here is the Senegalese musician Seckou Keita whose masterful playing of the Kora, the West African harp, practically lights up the album and, with its sound surprisingly close to the Celtic harp, bridges the distance between Northern Europe and Africa beautifully.

The song cycle the album consists of is all about nature, both real and mythical. Birdsong between tracks binds the songs together and we find ourselves in this entire lush forest of sound, creatures and stories – and spells.

In a way, the entire album feels like one long spell as the songs flow into each other in a very calming and natural stream. There are neither very fast nor notably slow tracks but the pulse of the music never feels same-y or too predictable because its heart beats in sync with the natural world.

For me, the only recent album that I think habits the same region of the musical universe would be Karine Polwart’s magnificent A Pocket Of Wind Resistance; both works have a rare ambience best appreciated in the peace of a dedicated listening session.

It’s not exactly folk but rather “art pop / world music”; it’s definitely not Celtic. But I wanted to pay notice to this album because it’s not only testimony to the wonderful creativity of many contemporary Scottish musicians – it’s simply very brilliant and absolutely spellbinding music from start to finish.

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