Song Premiere: Spell Songs II, “Oak”

With the climate changing every moment, and the forests being stripped of old growth trees, decimating the natural habitats of an array of wild creatures, we can either lament the losses of the spectacular biodiversity within which we live or we can celebrate it by embracing our relationship with the trees and the wildlife that dwell in the woods. On December 10, Spell Songs releases Spell Songs II: Let the Light In, a follow up to 2019’s The Lost Words: Spell Songs. While the group’s first album was inspired by the book The Lost Words, co-written by writer Robert Macfarlane and artist Jackie Morris, this new album takes inspiration from both The Lost Words and The Lost Spells, Macfarlane and Morris’ 2020 follow up. Commissioned by the Folk by the Oak Festival in late 2018, Spell Songs is comprised of seven musicians including Karine Polwart, Julie Fowlis, Seckou Keita, Kris Drever, Rachel Newton, Beth Porter and Jim Molyneux.

On “Oak,” the first single from the album, and a tribute to the mightiest of all the trees in the forest, lush guitar strums and fingerpicking open the song, unfurling spaciously like the immense branches and limbs of an oak tree. Kris Drever’s vocals and guitar ripple out in circles of sound, celebrating the many ways that humans interact with these venerable trees—children swinging from their limbs, acorns providing sustenance, oak planks used as material for caskets or dining room tables. The gnarled branches of ancient oaks offer shelter for weary pilgrims, homes for squirrels and other wildlife, and they possess the secrets to aging and wisdom unmatched my other creatures of the woods. The chorus tells the story of the oak’s wisdom by distinguishing it from other trees in the forest: “The Poplar is the whispering tree/And the Rowan is the sheltering tree/The willow is the weeping tree/And the Oak is waiting.”

As songwriter and vocalist Kris Drever observes: “For this song I wanted music that had life and a sense of still, woody, wisdom, like the tree at its heart. So I used my old-fashioned sounding guitar, put on my well-worn trad music boots, closed the door on my humdrum trivia and played ‘til it felt about right. Some things are hard work, but that tune was unbidden. It could have been ‘written’ in any number of centuries. The incantation from the Oak spell wrapped itself so easily around the melody that we had to keep it. Rob and I started the lyric by exploring the number of uses that humans have now, and have had through time, for the oak’s timber. In the writing it left me with a real tangible idea of symbiosis; how far would we have gotten without this tree? Without ships, tools, ink, shelter, furniture, wheels, toys, cradles, caskets and on and on and on. I think the oak at this point might just be waiting for us to come to our senses.”


Spell Songs II: Let the Light In is available for pre-order/pre-save HERE.

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