One of the main lyrical preoccupations of Rick Redbeard‘s debut solo album ‘No Selfish Heart‘ is time – its slipperiness, its sadness, the alluvial deposits it leaves behind in its passing – so it is understandable that the tunes are in no hurry to finish. This measured approach to songwriting is a departure for Redbeard – aka Rick Anthony – whose day job involves fronting the Phantom Band: a mathy, punchy and omnivorous Glasgow-based collective of art-rockers. But as departures go, this is a welcome one. Acoustic arrangements give a space to the songs that allows themes to develop whilst providing a suitable backdrop for Redbeard’s voice, which is just the right side of gravelly, falling somewhere between a Scottish Bill Calahan and, on ‘A Greater Brave‘, a rural, back porch Richard Hawley. In fact, so well suited is the material to the vocal delivery, it seems strange that he hasn’t tried this sort of thing before. It comes as no surprise then to learn that some of these songs are eight years old.
Elsewhere the raggedness is tempered by a chiming prettiness (and unexpected multi-tracked vocals) in ‘Now We’re Dancing‘, and subtle violins in ‘Old Blue‘, which introduces another of the record’s themes: the longing to return to a rustic simplicity, or as Redbeard puts it the ‘sense of yearning for something you’ve never had or can never hope to recapture’. It’s a well-trodden path for singer-songwriters, but one that leads through some pretty impressive scenery.
Experimentation is not entirely eschewed – the drone that leads the listener through ‘Clocks‘ and the higher-pitched vocals in the piano-led ‘We All Float‘ (reminiscent of Mercury Rev in their quieter moments) are evidence of this – but mostly this record is simplicity personified. It won’t produce any hit singles, and it can seem a bit one-paced at times, but this for the most part is offset by the wholeness of the recording and the humanity of the songs. In ‘Old Blue‘, Redbeard implores: ‘do things to me that are human’, and that’s what No Selfish Heart manages to do to the listener. Simple, human things.
Review by: Thomas Blake