No Selfish Heart
, March 1st, 2013 10:25
"Standing at the foot of the bed, wearing just my beard and a smile" Let us dwell upon that vision awhile. Before us is Rick Anthony – crooning blackcoat with Scottische Pop druids The Phantom Band; herein stripped to skin and bone with only his (red) beard to protect him. Said beard is rubicund enough to cast autumnal light across his bruised folk; shadowy enough to invoke the Scottish Highlands and Southern Gothic; mature enough to straddle aeons. It is not long enough to shield his heart.
He's stood unclothed on 'Now We're Dancing', surveying the bed – scene of birth and death, and all the carnal and cardinal dissipation 'twixt the twain – and the rest of his debut solo album follows suit. Anthony forages primal alt-rock, stark Americana and primitive Scots folk in a bid to uncover the heart of the matter (sex, love and the grisly vagaries thereof); to expose our flesh, and blood, and bones; to reduce us to dust and the grave and our memories. Lest we forget though, he's also smiling, and there is humour – albeit dark – throughout this precious, timeless album.
It's been a long time coming. Eight years in the making, and with some songs preceding The Phantom Band's jaw-dropping 2009 debut LP, Checkmate Savage, by several years, No Selfish Heart was recorded in Anthony's rural Aberdeenshire childhood home, where the fluent baritone seducer was raised "up an old dirt track" by a hermetic scientist father who stoked Anthony's love of nature and remote spaces, and a folk-singer mother whose Leonard Cohen lullabies enthralled our protagonist as an infant. His own rustic psalms and peat-crackling lullabies bestride place and time: alt-country elegy 'Cold As Clay (The Grave)' marries one of his oldest songs to one of his newest; a sublime rendition of trad-folk ballad 'Kelvin Grove' locates Anthony's present Glasgow home and echoes Dundee troubadour Jim Reid's variation 'The Shearin's No' For You'; while 'Clocks', 'Old Blue' and 'We All Float' are among the album's abiding track titles.
What's in a name, anyway? Everything, in the gospel according to Rick: he safeguards himself with a bristly alias, and his preoccupation for names, and our fragile hold on those inside them, resounds throughout No Selfish Heart. "There is a grave … that bears your name," he intones on the earthly 'Cold As Clay (The Grave)'; "I would love to say your name out loud", he chorales on chamber-folk lilt 'Now We're Dancing', yet there is a sense that he cannot; that the name (or its owner) is not his to call upon. Even the record's inherent yearning is stirred, in Anthony's words, by "a constant melancholy for something I can't name."
"Upon my chest you scratch your name," he surrenders on stunning alt-rock serenade 'Any Way I Can', as a loved one maps his carcass; plots their attack with no sign of remorse; reminds us that the lips we crave conceal bared teeth and baying jaws. Yet still we want them. Redbeard's celebration of love and its ruins embraces this naked truth with a smile, and then it exquisitely adds: devotion is savage; choice is a comfort we rarely have; all we are is in our hearts. Better we are loved at all, and love in any way we can.