The Phantom Band, the Scottish outfit that singer Rick Anthony is best known for, are not exactly acknowledged for their directness. Their songs can take time to get going and, when they do, there’s always so many musical ideas in them that it can be hard to keep up. But the pay-off is always immensely satisfying.
Given all that, the contents of Anthony’s first solo album, under the moniker of Rick Redbeard, will surprise many. No Selfish Heart is the polar opposite of what The Phantom Band strive to do. This collection of songs, written in different time periods and recorded in different locations, is gentle and warming. To call it a stripped down version of The Phantom Band would be doing it a disservice, but the tone is certainly a lot more sparse and natural, with the emphasis on acoustic instrumentation.
The nature of the arrangements also allows Anthony’s singing, which was already distinctive enough even when surrounded by a whirlwind of noise, to be brought to the fore; his clear baritone vocal style is reminiscent of Bill Callahan and adds plenty of character to these 10 brilliant songs that showcase a fine songwriter.
At its best, it can feel so intimate that it’s as if it’s being sung directly to you. Any Way I Can is perhaps the strongest track in terms of melody; hearing the refrain of “I’m gonna love you any way/I can’t give it up” recalls the work of Will Oldham at his finest. This is matched by the charmingly sweet Now We’re Dancing, a tune that is so loved-up and smitten that it’s hard not to smile. Whilst they represent the album’s clearest moment of optimism and cheeriness, Cold As Clay (The Grave) represents some of its darker moments (“There is a grave in the far side of the woods that bears your name”) but is no less beautiful.
There’s also room for a traditional folk song by the name of Kelvin Grove, which doesn’t feel out of place and is a touching ode to Glasgow. Hearing the words of Thomas Lyle sung by Anthony’s pronounced dialect is a real joy. The LP closes with the simplistic but stunningly affecting title track as we’re reminded that “only love can change a selfish heart”.
It’s a truism to say that the world doesn’t need any more no-frills folk records, and nor does it need to hear of any more solo projects. No Selfish Heart is an exception to the rule. No Selfish Heart is something to cherish all year round, no matter what’s in or out of fashion musically; something to keep coming back to when you’re unimpressed by everything else. It also confirms that Anthony is a spellbinding songwriter, no matter how many or how few instruments he has around him. Uncover this gem and treasure it.