After 20 years working as Karda Estra in a largely instrumental zone, Richard Wileman stepped out under his own name in 2018 to follow a more acoustic singer/songwriter path, firstly with his Veil album, followed last year by Cabal of Souls. This third album is the second (after Veil) to be released on Kavus Torabi’s Believer’s Roast label.
With his Gothic take on folk, Richard has established himself in his new role as a singer and developed himself further as an always interesting eclectic artist. His songs are imbued with haunting textural layers and spooky atmospherics that cram a lot into their generally compact three-to-four minute durations, producing miniature art works that stand tall in their own right. This album was inspired by the Tarot, from where the name ‘Arcana’ comes, referring to the trump cards, including The Star, The Fool, The Hanged Man, The Wheel of Fortune, The Sun, The Moon and The Devil, which all appear among the tracks here.
As usual, Richard is joined by collaborator Amy Fry, providing woodwind, brass and vocals, with his daughter Sienna singing parts of Crafted From Wood, a song from Earth Born by Spirits Burning, a collective featuring Daevid Allen and various Hawkwind alumni, which is rearranged here to make a very different – and in my opinion far superior – reading, Richard taking the first verse, Amy then joining and Sienna taking a verse and the end duet, singing very well.
But that’s the last piece – back to the beginning… Arcana opens with a deliciously dark sense of Gothic foreboding in Seed Sown, Mind Blown, Wileman’s voice aching against the baritone sax and archaic keyboards, bass out in front, cutting with an almost ’60s edge. Guitar lines slice through in the chorus and it’s a smoulderingly intense starter, modulating midway through with lilting, wordless tones easing the impending horror, which will soon return… The picked guitar of The Star is brighter and soothing, akin to Steve Hackett’s acoustic works, with Amy’s spellbinding vocal melody sailing above. Keyboard washes fill out the sound and, with twinkling percussion, it’s as idyllic and mysteriously distant as the heavenly body it references.
A variety of textural keyboards are deployed throughout, helping to provide a feel often more in line with Karda Estra than Richard’s previous solo outings, as evidenced in the instrumental The Fool, lightness in the delicate melody weighed down with brooding electronics and guitars – danger is at hand. The ’60s hints persist with Bacharach brightness, often obscured by the spreading cloudscape. It’s an intriguing piece, the longest on the album, allowing itself the space it needs to develop and find its own course.
Despite the essence of Karda Estra, Richard’s new identity prevails to fine effect, and there’s weeping sadness in the electric guitars of After London as he conjures more spooky mysticism as “white spectres haunt the margins of the marsh”. Yikes! He certainly seems more confident as a vocalist now, which comes through in all the performances here, as in the marvellously titled Night of the Living Doll, which opens with thumping bass and parping tones before settling into a swingin’ horror nightmare shaggy dog story of a return “back from the dead”. Amy’s wonderful supporting vocal is abetted by lugubrious sax and twinkly percussion, Gothic horror again sliding in to provide an unsettling edge which builds to a spooky crescendo.
The atmospherics that Richard is so adept at delivering thrive during The Hanged Man, horn effects and the various keyboards delivering a beautiful soundscape on which the melody can bask. This one is all about the haunting harmonies of Amy’s wordless sighing chorus. From piano beginnings, Richard and his guitar pick up in classic singer/songwriting troubadour mode for You Are My Song, but with the fog of mystery swirling around his feet. Amy’s clarinet makes a key appearance and her vocals again lift the song to new heights. Different directions for Pilot, jazzy and rolling, driven by acoustic guitar rhythms, and the dulcimer of Wheel of Fortune, which adds another highly atmospheric diversion, accentuated by the delicate percussion.
The Sun and the Moon and How I Ended It All are more straight-ahead, songs that were made for the sweet harmony of the voices alongside guitar and sax. Within the ornamentation, these are fine songs, intricate and arresting, interesting and worthy, delivered with the skill of a practitioner with decades of experience and who knows what they’re about. As you might expect, The Devil is a return to spooky, the eerie and genuinely unsettling opening seeing piano notes hang in frozen air. Pulsing bass suggests imminent disaster, which manifests with the introduction of metallic keyboards. It goes quiet before the epic finale – He’s behind you! Fade to black…
Wrapped up in Richard’s own artwork, Arcana is a stylish and engaging album that easily reveals its detail and depths, both warm and sinister, all at the same time. It’s a highly recommended investment, the aura of Gothic spookiness is so prevalent that it would be a shame if Wileman’s Swindon abode were not suitably adorned with imposing rusty iron gates, bat-riddled belfry and dungeon. That would be just perfect.
01. Seed Sown, Mind Blown (4:06)
02. The Star (2:39)
03. The Fool (5:43)
04. After London (2:53)
05. Night of the Living Doll (3:57)
06. The Hanged Man (4:10)
07. You Are My Song (3:04)
08. Pilot (4:27)
09. Wheel of Fortune (2:07)
10. The Sun and the Moon (3:56)
11. The Devil (4:21)
12. How I Ended It All (3:55)
13. Crafted From Wood (3:38)
Total Time – 48:56
Richard Wileman – Guitars, Vocals, Bass, Keyboards, Percussion, Bouzouki, Appalachian Dulcimer, Wine Glasses
Amy Fry – Clarinet, Alto & Baritone Saxophones, Vocals
Sienna Wileman – Vocals (on ‘Crafted From Wood’)
Record Label: Believer’s Roast
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 21st September 2020