Rick Redbeard – Awake Unto (4 stars)

Scots Americana Rick Redbeard

Scots Americana from the Phantom Band's lead singer

More commonly known as the singer with propulsive, Germanic-influenced Scots psych-rockers the Phantom Band, Rick Anthony unleashed his Rick Redbeard persona back in 2013 with the debut album No Selfish Heart, a surprisingly mellow set of autumnal Caledonian folk tracks. In the wake of 2014’s third Phantoms record Strange Friend and last year’s companion piece Fears Trending, he’s keeping up that particularly productive streak with this fourth album he’s been involved with in as many years.

The ambling pace of Anthony’s muse as Redbeard hasn’t altered much over the last three years, but the tone is markedly different. Where No Selfish Heart was infused with that decidedly Scots alt-folk sensibility, there’s a sense of smoky Americana to Awake Unto. Anthony has integrated an ever-so-slight twang into his singing voice, which makes it hard to place its origin; closer to the western edge of the north Atlantic would be the best guess. This impression is shaded by the banjo, accordion and buzzing, reverb-fuelled guitar filling the backdrop. That the forthcoming Refugee charity compilation places him alongside Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy on the tracklist is surely no mistake.

The opening ‘Wild Young Country’ is pure Will Oldham, with Anthony serenading a partner who was ‘sent from above’ in their ‘heathen glory’ over a delicate, waltzing piano line. It all feels very analogue, very rustic; much like the strident but rootsy ‘In My Wake’ and ‘The Golden Age’, a cheerfully anthemic collision of banjo and clanging steel guitar. Anthony has mastered a particular kind of tone here – from the dust-baked, Breaking Bad menace of ‘Unfound’ to the bittersweet nocturnal lullaby ‘The Night is All Ours’ and the measured ‘Get Friendly (Blood)’, a striking duet with his own sister – which places this record comfortably in the same bracket as the likes of Smog, for example.

There are echoes of dewy Scots folk here and there, as on the minimal reverse-guitar melancholy of ‘Field Years’ and the King Creosote-like ‘Let It Rust’, but this ultimately seems to be a record concerned with stepping out of comfort zones so that something more resonantly personal might emerge.

Awake Unto by Rick Redbeard is released by Chemikal Underground on Fri 17 Jun.

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