Today I discovered that Karine Polwart and some friends are releasing a new musical offering, available for preorder. It’s called The Lost Words: Spell Songs, and it’s a companion to the book of poetry by the same title. The book, written by Robert Macfarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris, was born through a unique vision. From the book’s Amazon page: “In 2007, when a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary ― widely used in schools around the world ― was published, a sharp-eyed reader soon noticed that around forty common words concerning nature had been dropped. Apparently they were no longer being used enough by children to merit their place in the dictionary. The list of these “lost words” included acorn, adder, bluebell, dandelion, fern, heron, kingfisher, newt, otter, and willow. “
Spells are words that intend, that create, and in this case, recall. From the notes for the album, Robert explains: “We’ve got more than 50% of species in decline. And names, good names, well used can help us see and they help us care. We find it hard to love what we cannot give a name to. And what we do not love we will not save.” The spells are in poetic form; I have not seen them yet. The difference between spells and some poetry is, that spells must be spoken. In fact that’s the origin of the word ‘spell’. So Macfarlane hopes with his poetry to encourage our re-calling of fading species of planet Earth.
And one of my favorite Scottish artists, Karine Polwart, has stepped up to this plate, along with some of her buddies. I have been a fan for quite some time; Polwart is a preeminent Scottish folk singer-songwriter. I discovered her material years ago, through her first independent album, actually: Faultlines. Karine’s range of topics and genres is notable, even for a contemporary folk musician. Her formal education in philosophy shows, as she writes in depth social commentary, nature-based love ballads, and compassionate story-based portraits of folks from various times and places. Her Scottish roots also afford her much in the way of traditional material, always rendered in a unique style. One of my favorite compositions of hers, about water:
I think that’s her brother Steven on guitar, and the kalimba player and vocalist is Inge Thomson, who has been with her for some time. So now, who said a degree in philosophy is useless?
Karine is promoting yet another album right now; the woman seems tireless. I received the promotion in my email, and this is the song currently chosen to lead the way:
Another touching drama, social commentary, more lovely nature poetry, the hallmark philosophical perspective, and Polwart seems unstoppable after almost 20 years of prominent musical career. I have always said, as a fiddler, that the Scots do a lament better than anyone on the planet. That heart rending has healing properties. Chance comes with the album Scottish Songbook now available for preorder on the usual platforms. Polwart’s website here
I could add more praise. But this is initially a short promotion of The Lost Words album. The website and preorder here. Three songs are already available, the target date for the rest is July 12. The song that caught my ear, and heart, is this one, a song about selkies, a lovely mythic being of the British Isles;
Finally, I shall not resist my favorite song of hers along similar traditional story lines. The song concerns a tale I have usually seen here in the States attributed to Irish lore, the story of how the tiny wren became king of birds. I don’t believe the story is necessarily Irish, since there is a tradition of ritual wren-killing in other countries of the Isles, as well. The tale is that there was a convention of the birds, to decide the king of them all. The one who flew the highest would get the crown. For a version, go here
The song was written in honor of the Occupy movement, or as Polwart says in concerts, it’s a hymn to that group. Enjoy!