Release Date: Jan 27, 2015
Record label: Drag City
Genre(s): Folk, Celtic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Neo-Traditional Folk, Indie Folk, Contemporary Celtic
There's something about a mid-career self-titled album that heralds an apex in the artist's creative output. Scottish singer-songwriter Alasdair Roberts has eight albums under his belt, featuring a mix of traditional and original songs, the latter paying playful homage to the sound and style of the former. Put this most recent offering on in the background and you might feel as though you're hearing the tales of some medieval balladeer, but listen to the lyrics, and this is an album of original music, of and about the present.
Roberts’ latest work is full of sonic space and warmth: an intimate and classically manifested set of tracks in which his melodic arpeggio fingerwork on the guitar is reflected by a soft and expressive voice. Artless One, with its addition of the Glaswegian vocal quartet The Crying Lion, is a fine example of Roberts’ ability to come up with new ideas that already sound like standards. The album is made up of such moments, and when Donald Lindsay’s tin whistle is added to the mix, as on the excellent Hurricane Brown, the moods smudge and smoosh through California Dreamin’-esque harmonies of plaintive, pensive loveliness.
The music of Alasdair Roberts has such a distinct sound and cadence that it seems to exist on a separate plane, where ancient themes and stories converge with sophisticated, complex musical patterns. His almost mystical take on traditional Scottish fare and dedication to crafting original material in a similar vein have placed him in a category of his own since the release of his 2001 solo debut The Crook of My Arm. The trends he follows are certainly not of this century or possibly even the last one, yet somehow he has found a robust fan base and sturdy home with Chicago's Drag City Records.
Even by his prolific standards, it has been a busy couple of years for Scottish singer-songwriter Alasdair Roberts. There was A Wonder Working Stone, the 2013 album billed to his group Alasdair Roberts & Friends, and Hirta Songs, his full-length collaboration with poet Robin Robertson. Then last year saw At Our Next Meeting, the excellent debut album of traditional folk ballads by his new group the Furrow Collective.
It’s odd for an eighth solo album to be self-titled, but the prolific Scots singer has never taken an orthodox approach, while this collection of originals arrives after a slew of collaborations and covers of traditional ballads. It’s personal, even if its songs come draped in antique lyricism – only Roberts would refer to a love affair as “courting” and “an uneven thing”. His reedy vocals aren’t for everyone, but his twisting melodies and cryptic imagery remain a delight, with his guitar ably supported by woodwind and, on In Dispraise of Hunger, a vocal quartet.
Alasdair Roberts - Alasdair Roberts (Drag City)If there is any musician of the last twenty years whose music forces us to give up the folk label, it is Alasdair Roberts. The line on Roberts is that he is a modern folk musician, but the term ‘folk’ is so fraught and limiting that it obscures just what it is that Alasdair taps into. He is a singer, a guitarist, a bandleader, a songwriter, a channeler of trad forms.
Over the course of what is now eight albums, there is not really an Alasdair Roberts release that can be regarded as particularly personal. The lyrically gifted, instrumentally dextrous Scot is adept at musing, using his uniquely anachronistic poetry, on ideology, history, society, community and even things like work and family. But any notion of confession has rarely made its way into his extraordinary oeuvre.