Hobbies Galore has always done a good job of scooping the fringes of Aussie music, though they’ve not ventured too far into the past at this point. This collection of songs from Melbourne songwriter Neil Richards wraps up his works from 1981 to the present and gives a tender overview of the guitarist / dulcimer player’s oeuvre. Feeling deeply indebted to ’60s UK folk, the album picks through the Renbourn / Jansch / Harper schools with occasional dips into something less pristine, a warm wind of tape hiss that wafts in an element of the private press gold that this represents. Richards has a patient, and decidedly unflashy approach to playing, but the songs are inviting in the way the best traditional English folk can be — worn pub singalongs and lamplight weepers that trace the lines of age and and the heaviness of heartbreak.
Richards’ plaintive voice and unpolished playing give this collection a comfort that’s tempting to lean towards. There’s a thick layer of musty quilting wrapping his songs, bringing with it smells of home and history. The record’s lived in nature keeps away any sense of packaged homogeneity — it’s imperfections its greatest assets. With each creak of strings and sighed breath, the songwriter shows wears away the listeners’ defenses, letting this act as something of a soother of modern hackles. Ancient Loyalties winds up a beacon from the past that keeps pulling the listener in, universal tales that pass like heirlooms to the heart and mind.
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