Release Date: Jan 22, 2013
Record label: Drag City
Genre(s): Folk, Celtic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Neo-Traditional Folk, Indie Folk, International, Contemporary Celtic
Now seven albums into his solo career (eight if you include last year’s splendid collaboration with Gaelic singer Mairi Morrison), Alasdair Roberts ought by now to be a revered statesman of modern folk music. That he remains appreciated only by a limited cognoscenti is frustrating. His long playing recordings tend to alternate between collections of traditional Scottish folk songs (The Crook Of My Arm, No Earthly Man, Too Long In This Condition) and collections of his own tangled, elaborate originals (Farewell Sorrow, The Amber Gatherers, Spoils).
It's been said that the compositions of Glasgow-based folk artist Alasdair Roberts sound as if they were written hundreds of years ago. This is certainly testament to the Will Oldham protégé's nigh-on two-decade quest to promote the communal and social aspect of folk music, rather than the confessional and personal approach taken by many acoustic guitar-wielding singer/songwriters who have popularized the genre in recent decades. While Roberts has been acclaimed for successfully tackling whole albums of traditional material with considerable aplomb -- see his sparse but assured 2001 full solo debut, Crook of My Arm; 2005's unflinching collection of murder ballads, No Earthly Man; or the tender and well-researched 2010 set Too Long in This Condition -- never has his music sounded so universal and inclusive than it does on this set of originals.
Alasdair Roberts' musical foundations extend deep into the bedrock of the traditional folk of Scotland and the British Isles. Fuelled by restless curiosity and a scholar's attention to detail, Roberts has long split his attentions between interpretations of traditional material and his own original songs, while often leaving blurry the distinction between the two. On A Wonder Working Stone, his first collection of all original material since 2009's Spoils, the line separating the traditional from the personal is purposefully left fuzzier than ever.
Although Alasdair Roberts’ songs are not the north face of folk music, some do nevertheless require a bit of commitment. His slantwise songwriting subsumes and embodies the tradition it follows, often lyrically oblique but abidingly apposite. His deftly intricate guitar playing, spidery fingers bewitching the strings, can cast darkness from light, and his voice can sound stricken with sorrow.
Wonder Working Stone is Scottish singer-songwriter Alasdair Roberts' seventh album under his own name, and the second to be appended with the 'and friends' tag, following 2010's Too Long in this Condition. It also follows last year's collaboration with Gaelic singer Mairi Morrison, Urstan, which, like Too Long in this Condition, was mostly a collection of traditional numbers. Roberts has long alternated between recording traditional songs and his own material, and it's the latter path he's followed here, showcasing Roberts the eclectic songwriter and virtuoso lyricist; though as ever, he remains deeply influenced by folk forms old and new, local and international, mixing them up with a rare delight.