Spellbound – Anam Cara: Album review

Spellbinding amalgam of psychedelic folk blues.

Release date: 18th November 2022

Label: Continental Song City

Format: CD / digital

Not quite I’m gonna make you a star, although, I guess that might be up to you, but the story of how this warming release came to fruition makes for a decent tale. Another from my overdue pile, I am afraid, but well worth the belated exposure. Spellbound is the pairing of Scottish singer, Julie Scott, with the established Dutch musician, Peter Slager, bass guitarist for BLØF. In fact, she is his vocal coach, he having come across her on the internet, and, to cut a long story, the logical step was to put this album together, not letting geographical distance or covid measures stand in their way. Putting together a band of his friends and contemporaries, with a full orchestral base, and all working remotely, Anam Cara is the outcome. With that title translating, from the Gaelic, as Soul Friend, it is does indeed cast quite the spell. If your taste runs to a moody 70s style folky psychedelia, with a penchant for the blues; Renaissance might be one touchstone, Judie Tzuke another, with hints even of Shelagh MacDonald and of Isobel Campbell (in her Mark Lanegan pairing), then this is for you.

Opener, All Is Well, begins simply enough with some strummed guitar, ahead of some evocative slide expanding the horizon, Scott’s voice softly intoning over a mellow harmonium. A string section quietly joins, imbuing a dense and dreamy feel. Uncertain who is responsible for the string arrangements, possibly Slager himself, but they offer a gorgeous swell of backdrop, with flute and oboe adding only what they are able to. The second song then features Scott in a lower key, a husky alto, a gentle reverie, Halos And Hearts, wherein the strings vie with Scott’s multitracked backing chorale to take the attention. The mood remains chilled, yet with enough hygge to be cosy. A decent little guitar solo ripples through as it progresses. Old Magazines continues in this vein, and is a similar song, of reflection, with electric piano hues backing up against an insistent backbeat from the drums, with more orchestral elegance.

Forceful percussion beckons in Amazing, which, if one can rid the image of Kate Bush invoked by the word, is close to the meaning of it, a moaning vocal with multi-tracked bvs. The slight discord of a howling guitar adds to the sense of dis-ease throughout this song. In the background, the strings are doing their best to wrest back some calm. The contrasts are remarkable and disconcerting. In a good way. Perfect Storm is a more soulful piece, some 70’s sax parping melodically against another choir of Scotts, their addition essential, and nailing the reference to MacDonald, as does the piano which then takes centre stage to close the song. Wave again keeps the drummer busy, as effects give a spectral watery feel to the piano and guitar. Scott is on full croon here, and I can see Slager’s attraction for her tones. When he adds his harmony, the combination is unexpected and offers an almost Eurythmic effect.

I confess Mad Hatter didn’t capture me so well, the harmonium and strings seeming out of kilter with the abrasive banjo. Keeping to the positive, tho’, I did like Slager’s bass. And I did like the lyrical stance of Praise, which follows, ushered in with some bluesy harmonica, that coming into its own after the first self-deprecatory verse. This one rattles along with a fingerpicked motif that could be any of many more celebrated troubadours. A whispered 1,2,3,4 and some, this time, more delicate guitar embeds Scott at her most honeyed, for Sea Song. The harmonium again reminds of how welcome it can be, a textural link crossing the decades.

Whisky is dedicated to the memory of Mark Lanegan, into whose song structure he is intrinsically embedded. Squint and imagine, how would it sound in his soused baritone? Pretty damn good, I would expect, the swampy keyboard a glorious choogle, alongside more of that harp, and some frayed guitar histrionics. Highlight alert! Deep Fall offers a breather, harmonium and descending high bass notes cradling the sense of a lullaby, and it is fair to say this disc is making itself most welcome. Swooping slide echoes about the main theme, and I am entranced. A sense of the blues has imperceptibly crept in and taken control of the room. Tender Dancing jangles in on metal strings, Scott now billing and cooing, an aerie faerie melody occupying a hinterland between campfire and a downtown club in the port district of Amsterdam. Struggling to scratch the itch as to what it reminds me of, suddenly it hits, a distant flavour of Zeppelin’s Thank You. Very distant, but in there somewhere. Which can be no bad thing.

The final burst brings back, this time more successfully, the banjo/strings interface. With the strings invoking Robert Kirby (Nick Drake/Shelagh MacDonald) at his best, Scott here is channeling Polly Harvey and it is a rich and rewarding track with which to close the show. You Are Here it is called, and I am glad I was. I am uncertain whether you will see much attention offered this recording elsewhere, at least in the UK, but it is worth the search. Thankfully there is a Bandcamp page, at least until you are next in The Hague.

You want Whisky?

Spellbound online: website (NL) / facebook / Instagram

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