Formed to give musical voice to The Lost Words, Robert Macfarlane’s bestselling meditations on British wildlife, this collective of folk alumni triumphed with 2019’s album of the same name, not least in performance, with a streamed concert at London’s Natural History Museum this year enjoying a global audience of 55,000. Their follow-up, inspired by Macfarlane’s recent The Lost Spells, proves equally captivating, setting its 15 subjects – Swifts, Barn Owl, Bramble and the like – to a serendipitous blend of guitar, harp, woodwind, kora and more.
The playing is assured – Rachel Newton’s harp and Beth Porter’s cello deserve special mention – but it’s the group’s collective vocals that ace it. Masterfully produced by Andy Bell, their voices swell in inclusive choral harmony, with unforced high notes from Hebridean singer Julie Fowlis. The assorted flora and creatures evoked by Macfarlane’s words underpin the album. Lau’s Kris Drever brings a visceral quality to the Fox spell – “Red is your art, red your animal heart” – while the Gorse spell cleverly fuses plant and human nature – “prickly, cussed, hard to handle”.
The charming, meticulous watercolours of Jackie Morris complete a magical piece of chamber folk that will speak to all ages.