The original Spell Songs album grew from a pair of books from Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris, words and illustrations that became complementary incantations to nature in the compositions and performance of this group of very fine British folk musicians - Karine Polwart, Julie Fowlis, Seckou Keita, Kris Drever, Rachel Newton, Beth Porter and Jim Molyneux. All well-known individually, they set aside any solo egos to bring us some light and magic for the dark days and nights of winter, with this live album recorded on their 2021/22 tour.
It opens with an exploration of the fragility of the natural world in the delicate first track, “Bird Of The Blizzard,” before showing the resilience and steel core that lives in the earth in the harmonies and handclap accompaniment of “Thrift (Dig In, Dig In).”
Everywhere, there are breathtaking moments - the harp and kora together, a beautiful cascade of guitar arpeggios, or book illustrator Morris (who paints live during the performances - see the video below), speaking the spell that begins “Otter” before the piece becomes a lulling instrumental improvisation.
“Curlew” overflows with passion, the voices soaring off to the skies, and “Charm On, Goldfinch” is an entire world in a tiny heart.
There’s little here that fans of the studio album won’t know, but it’s a triumph of gentle majesty, perhaps best summed up by the closer, “The Lost Words Blessing,’ which is part lullaby, part prayer, part thanks.
Gift Of Light is a work of art and hope that adds to the joy in the world. We need more of those.
Jackie Morris - Otters painted during Spell Songs at Sage Gateshead, June 2022