As a solo artist, James Blackshaw is prolific enough, so imagine my surprise when I found out that he's also put out not one, but two collaborative albums with lutenist/ composer Jozef van Wissem under the name Brethren Of The Free Spirit. Earlier this year, the duo released All Things Are From Him, Through Him, and In Him in limited versions on the AudioMer label, and now they're already back with another selection of long tracks on The Wolf Shall Also Dwell with the Lamb on Important Records.
Yes, you read that correctly above. Jozef Van Wissem plays the lute, and Blackshaw contributes his usual 12-string guitar work. Together, the two play repetitive, slowly-evolving pieces that pull in strains of folk, classical, and baroque music. "The Sun Tears Itself From the Heavens and Comes Crashing Down Upon the Multitude" opens the release with a track that's almost maddening in how sparse it is. With nothing more than overlapping note and chord plucks, it often drifts to complete silence and plays out like an eight minute palindrome. "The Wolf Also Shall Dwell with the Lamb" moves into a bit more familiar territory for those familiar with Blackshaw, as it weaves through almost nine minutes of shifting lute and guitar melodies that peak slowly and softly. "Into the Dust of the Earth" takes the same approach in terms of instrumentation, but shifts into a darker place musically, with descending, haunting melodies that sound almost incantational.
"I Am a Flower of Sharon and a Rose in the Valley" closes out the relatively short release (four tracks run a half hour in total length) by again opening up space with more sparse melodies and some gaps that again let the silence linger a bit more. Blackshaw's solo work is certainly a good entry point, but Brethren Of The Free Spirit plays out differently enough that fans of his will find new things to hear. It lacks the same amount of shifts and movement, instead relying on silence just as often to make a point. Good, but not quite great, it's the sort of side project I can hear evolving into something amazing given more time (or perhaps a few more musicians filling things out).