All too often, when I pore through each week’s new releases, I wonder where music is heading? It seems that nostalgia is now officially the future. A deluge of third-rate reissues seems to be all some record companies are releasing. Then there’s compilations. Like greetings cards, there are compilations for every occasion. Many record shops now seem to be musical equivalent of Hallmark. Not content with albums of Christmas music, we’re now treated to compilations for St. Valentine’s Day and fathers day. I’m fully expecting some enterprising record label to release an album for Bar Mitzvahs, first communions or even, music to celebrate the passing of your nearest and dearest. With songs like First Cut Is The Deepest, Little Ole Wine Drinker Me and Another One Bites The Dust, a new revenue stream awaits enterprising record companies. Even worse, there’s the D.I.Y. music.

With music software much more affordable, everyone thinks they’ve got what it takes to be a “star.” Sadly, that’s not the case. Sadly, each copy of Logic doesn’t come with talent enclosed. Worse still are edits. They’re are usually made by wannabe DJs lacking the talent to make remixes. Incredibly, record companies are now releasing compilations of edits. Seriously, you couldn’t make this up. Of course, maybe we’re getting the music we deserve? 

Living in the age of so called talent shows, “stars” are created over a period of weeks. Like so much of modern society, music is now instant and disposable. “Stars” are created almost overnight. Over a period of eight weekly hour shows, a star is born. So, it’s no surprise that their music is disposable. This weeks talent show winner is next month’s shelf stacker. Their music is equally disposable. Empty, vacuous and lacking in meaning and depth, their music is next month’s landfill. Thankfully, there is an alternative.

Despite all this and more being wrong with music, very occasionally, along comes an album that restores my faith in music. It makes up for everything I’ve described. At last, the musical Gods are smiling on me. When this happens, the constant search for quality music becomes worthwhile. This was the case when I came across Rick Redbeard’s latest album No Selfish Heart. It was released on Glasgow’s premier label, Chemikal Underground in January 2013. A long time in the making, at long last, Rick Redbeard’s debut album No Selfish Heart was out. Before I tell you the subtleties, nuances and melancholy delights of No Selfish Heart, which was eight years in the making, I’ll tell you about Rick Redbeard.

Although No Selfish Heart is Rick Redbeard’s debut album, it’s not his musical debut. Quite the opposite. That was with The Phantom Band. Using his real name, Rick Anthony, he’s been lead singer of one of Glasgow’s leading bands since hey released their debut single Throwing Bones in 2007. Two years later, they released their critically acclaimed debut album Checkmate Savage on Chemikal Underground. Just a year later, The Phantom Band were back with their sophomore album The Wants. Since then, The Phantom Band haven’t released another album. That gave Rick the opportunity to finish the No Selfish Heart, an album his alter-ego started eight years ago.

Work on No Selfish Heart began eight years before its release. The idea was to give Rick an outlet for his more pensive, thoughtful music. It was too good to lay unreleased, but unsuitable for The Polar Band. So, Rick invented his alter-ego Rick Redbeard. He was the polar opposite to the hard rocking lead singer of The Polar Band. Rick Redbeard was the perfect musical vehicle for these songs. Among the artists who have influenced No Selfish Heart are Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave. To that, I’d add Paul Buchanan of The Blue Nile, Chris Thompson of The Bathers and the books of Alistair Gray and James Joyce. All these influences and more can be heard on the nine tracks on No Selfish Heart, which was recorded in unusual circumstances.

Eschewing Glasgow’s top recording studios, Rick took a different approach to recording No Selfish Heart. He split his time between his between two places. This included his flat in Glasgow’s West End, the city’s artistic quarter and his parent’s house in rural Aberdeenshire. From a technical viewpoint, this isn’t ideal. Listen carefully and you can hear imperfections like a piano stool creaking. While this might not make sense to many people, the intimate and familiar surroundings allowed an outpouring of emotion. In allowing Rick’s sensitive and pensive side to shine through. Eventually, after eight years hard work, No Selfish Heart, a true labor of love was completed. 

When Rick Redbeard came to release No Selfish Heart, it made sense to release it on Chemikal Underground. After all, it was The Phantom Band’s label. Released in January 2013, No Selfish Heart was released to critical acclaim. Superlatives were exhausted by critics. They marveled at Rick Redbeard’s debut album No Selfish Heart. Eight years in the making, it had been time well spend. You’ll realize that too, when I tell you about No Selfish Heart.

Opening No Selfish Heart is Clocks. It features the unmistakable sound of a shruti-box, which is crucial to the song’s lament like sound. It accompanies Rick’s weary, wistful vocal. Pondering and wondering, he seems consumed by the sense that time is running out. It’s as if he’s realized that every minute, of every hour, of every day, of every year time is slipping. Mournful and melancholy it’s a wake up call that nobody is immortal.

Just an acoustic guitar and subtle strings accompany Rick’s vocal on Old Blue. Needy and lonely suffering from the breakup of a relationship, time, isn’t healing his hurt. Backing vocals sweep in. They seem sympathetic and share his hurt. This doesn’t matter. Still his loss is akin to a gaping wound, in that it still hurts badly.

There’s a country influence to Any Way I Can. It’s Rick’s vocal and the guitars that lead to this comparison. Expressive and evocative describe Rick’s lyrics. His voice paints pictures. It’s hardly one of domestic bliss. Instead, it’s a relationship on the rocks. Rick the lyricist, is like a latter day Johnny Cash. He sings: “put down the blade and come to bed…I won’t take back the things I’ve said… and..I can’t undo the things I’ve done.” Powerful, evocative and emotive, their love still lingers.

A Greater Brave is another example of Rick’s songwriting skills. Again, he paints pictures with his lyrics. It reminds me of The Blue Nile on A Walk Across The Rooftops describing a city as darkness falls. The understated arrangement, where acoustic guitar and punchy harmonies accompany his heartfelt, emotive vocal. Later, Josephine Anthony’s ethereal vocal joins the harmonies. It’s the perfect foil for Rick and his lyrics which seem inspired by James Joyce and Alistair Gray.

We All Float has a melancholy, some would say mournful introduction. No me. Instead, I’d describe it as pensive and beautiful. As Rick sings about man’s mortality, his voice is filled with emotion and sadness. There’s almost a sense surprise at this sudden realization that comes with age.

Kelvin Grove is a traditional Scottish song. It’s a love song given a makeover by Rick. Just acoustic guitars and strings accompany him. His vocal is slow, impassioned and emotive. Taking care with the lyrics, he delivers them thoughtfully, as if he’s singing them to someone. In doing so, he brings out the beauty in this traditional song.

Just his trusty acoustic guitar and percussion accompany Rick on Now We’re Dancing. It’s a song about the breakup of a relationship. Here, Rick sings about how his life seemed to stop when this happened. He describes it as: “my evolution’s come undone.” Memories come flooding back of happier times. They’re long gone. Rueful and almost superstitiously, as if scared to mention her name, he sings: “I would love to say your name, if only for the sake of it.” Poignant and filled with pathos, Rick’s hurt seems almost real.

Cold As Clay (The Grave) is a track whose roots are firmly in folk music. Here, Rick’s vocal is reminiscent of James Grant of Love and Money. Accompanied by accordion, guitar and strings, Rick’s vocal is a cathartic outpouring of hurt, grief and pain. Raw and heartfelt the reality of death is the cause of his pain. The only consolation is, that one day, he believes, they’ll be together again.

Wildlove features another outpouring of emotion from Rick. With just a guitar for company, he unleashes a vocal that’s equal parts power and pain. Conjuring up feelings emptiness and even grief, the lyrics, deal with love lost and the vacuum it leaves behind.

Closing No Selfish Heart is the title-track. A slow, deliberate guitar sets the scene for Rick’s vocal. He delivers lyrics that are evocative, expressive, poetic and Baroque. They take you on a musical journey, to another time and place. Rick’s vocal is heartfelt and filled with emotion and sincerity. Painting pictures with his lyrics, he sings of the woman who transformed: “his selfish heart.”How did he do this? “Only love can change a selfish heart,” one that seems unattainable and tantalizingly out of reach.

Although the ten songs on No Selfish Heart took eight years to record, they were well worth the wait. This was the same with The Blue Nile. They were far from a prolific group. Like The Blue Nile, Rick’s music is the polar opposite to so much modern music. Rather than being instant and disposable, it’s intelligent, evocative, expressive, poetic and thoughtful. Rick Redbeard sings of hurt and heartbreak, love and loss, life and death. Poignancy gives way to pathos, while there’s a sense of melancholia and wistfulness on several tracks. Indeed, several tracks are like a coming of age for Rick. There’s a realization that no longer he’s immortal. That’s something that comes with age, experience and maturity. Other songs, they’re akin to an outpouring of grief and loss. Rick’s vocal is at the heart of these songs, while the mostly acoustic arrangements are understated and subtle. Despite this, the songs are intricate and multilayered. Subtleties, surprises and nuances await discovery. 

Rick Redbeard’s No Selfish Heart is similar to Paul Buchanan’s debut solo album Mid Air. Like Paul Buchanan, Rick has a lived-in, world-weary sound. Both albums feature music that’s moody, broody, but sometimes hopeful. The music is also introspective, poignant and wistful music. That’s what I’d expect from Scotland’s latest troubled troubadours. Maudlin but beautiful, heartbreaking but hopeful and always heartfelt, Rick Redbeard’s No Selfish Heart, is well worth discovering. Indeed, Rick Redbeard’s No Selfish Heart, like Mid Air, is pensive and reflective music, that’s perfect for late-night listening. Standout Tracks: Clocks, Any Way I Can, Kelvin Grove and Wildlove.


1 Comment

  1. yo

    Hello Derek, we deserve Paul and Rick. Beautiful hearts. Thank you.

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