Brethren of the Free Spirit: The Wolf Also Shall Dwell With The Lamb

If you're unfamiliar with Brethren of the Free Spirit (the name derives from a cult of 13th-century Northern European religious heretics, apparently), you're probably familiar with the artists who constitute it, namely acclaimed guitarist James Blackshaw and lute player Jozef Van Wissem. On the duo's sophomore outing, The Wolf Also Shall Dwell With The Lamb (recorded at Locksley Hall, Amsterdam in April 2008), Blackshaw's 12-string Guild guitar and Van Wissem's 13-course Baroque lute blend into crystalline masses of spiraling patterns where it's sometimes difficult to separate the one musician from the other (an effect exacerbated by the mono mix).

In contrast to the violence conveyed by its title, the sparsely-arranged “The Sun Tears Itself From the Heavens and Comes Crashing Down Upon the Multitude” is largely peaceful and ponderous in character, with pregnant pauses allowing the resonant harmonics of the instruments' harp-like plucks to echo into silence. The title track is more upbeat by comparison, and more expansive too in the way the two fill the space with sparkling strums, banjo-like picking, and the repetition of the piece's chiming theme. Based on an anonymous-composed classical baroque lute prelude from the 1650, “Into the Dust of the Earth” brings a brooding feel to its lilting rhythm and actually inverts its main theme halfway through to turn the piece into a palindrome. “I Am a Flower of Sharon and a Rose in the Valley” closes the mini-album on a downbeat, even somber note with heavily-accented curlicues and clusters. Though the thirty-minute recording is short by conventional standards, it's still long enough for one to appreciate the lush sound the players produce and the symbiotic manner they have of doing so. Needless to say, the mere existence of a newly-released album of guitar-and-lute music is something to celebrate all by its lonesome, and even more so when the artists involved so effortlessly blend multiple centuries of baroque and folk traditions into a contemporary style that feels wholly natural.

February 2009