The vivid, poetic nature writing of Robert Macfarlane has touched a sweet spot in the national psyche, making him a bestseller and provoking a groundswell of concern for language, landscape and history. Spell Songs sets Macfarlane’s garlanded The Lost Words to music, with fresh material from the author and illustrator Jackie Morris. Playing and singing is a poly-talented eight-strong ensemble led by Scots singer Karine Polwart, the collective putting together the record during a residency in Grasmere.
Several of its songs are, indeed, spells, evocations of Acorn, Heron and Kingfisher set to delicate blends of harp, guitar, cello and kora (courtesy of Senegal’s Seckou Keita). The Snow Hare is a mesmerising vocal duet by Polwart and Julie Fowlis that captures the austere beauty of a winter landscape, while Charm on, Goldfinch, mixing birdsong, whistling and words, makes the bird an emblem of hope. Heartwood was written as “a charm against harm” in support of Sheffield’s Tree Action Groups, and the theme of ecological watchfulness returns in the closing Lost Words Blessing, reminding us of our duty of care to future generations. A brave and magical creation.