I have been waiting so fucking long for this album that first time I wrote about Rick Redbeard doesn’t even appear on the site anymore, because I lost it when a bunch of posts died in the great WordPress changeover fuckup of 2007.
I wrote about his music again that October, and said the following:
“If you put his songs up alongside those of Kurt Wagner, Sam Beam, Robert Fisher and Will Oldham then I defy you to spot the callow newcomer in amongst the indie legends. He is not copying this genre, he is adding to it, with gorgeous music that sits comfortably along far more illustrious acts with every right to hold its head confidently high in such company.”
As frontman of the Phantom Band, whose intervening success I assume has delayed this album as long as it has, you could hardly call Rick Anthony a callow newcomer anymore, but the rest still stands: this is pretty straightforward stuff. It’s a sort of acoustic pop album with strong elements of folk and country, and if you combine that description with the comparisons I made above you’ll have a pretty clear idea of what you’ll be listening to.
It is a sub-genre which has existed for years though, and despite the additions to its ranks being so voluminous, occasionally someone comes along who creates something with such sparkle it manages to catch your eye, despite being the proverbial needle in a haystack. This is one of those albums.
Could I tell you why I think No Selfish Heart is exceptional? No, I am not sure I can. Subtle technical points can be made, I suppose. The variation of sound and song structure keeps the album interesting, for example, with floaty meandering tunes like the exceptional Old Blue at one end, the more traditional folk structures of Kelvin Grove at another, and more straightforward, acoustic pop songwriting like Any Way I Can at another.
Lyrically this spans the somewhat schmaltzy in Now We’re Dancing and the really rather creepy in Cold as Clay, but there are also moments of humour such as the moment he talks of “standing at the foot of your bed, wearing just my beard and a smile”.
The instrumentation is also beautifully judged, and everything has a reason for being there. There is little more than what I think is a shruti box or an acoustic guitar at times, sometimes that is embellished with a little piano or some violin, and more rarely a very judicious use of drums and bass, but the latter setup is a rare one. Nevertheless these careful, if subtle, variations mean the album is absolutely never boring, and that for all the this genre has fairly little scope for surprise, it is always moving towards somewhere slightly different from where it is, and this last fact particularly makes it a constantly rewarding listen.
Technical pish aside, however, it helps that so many of the songs on No Selfish Heart are just plain fucking beautiful to listen to. Old Blue, Cold As Clay and Any Way I Can are stunning. I’ve mentioned them already, but there are plenty of others. It’s just a gorgeous album, start to finish, and well worth the six years I’ve been waiting for it to materialise.