on 31 July 2010
Ten Ballads and One Tune - "Stravaig With Gravitas"
It's a bizarre world we live in when a lot of old folkies don't know Roberts' work: his many albums and his prolific live appearances. Yet he graces the cover of THE WIRE magazine. The broadsheets review his work. He's critically acclaimed. But not very well known. Bonnie Prince Billy loves his work and works with him.
But for some, he's too indie-music to be folkie (a strange idea at best) and for others, he's too folkie for the contemporary indie-music fan. He lives in limbo. This is released by the uber-cool US label Drag-City. It's a strange irony that it takes a US label based in Chicago to release our own culture in the UK to this quality. For this is an album of traditional ballads (and one tune of course) based mainly around Scotland - and it's his most enjoyable yet.
But Roberts seems to care not for being contemporary and he's all the better for it. This is a collection of bloody ballads and sad-yet-uplifting yarns made in part by delving into of Edinburgh's School of Scottish Studies resulting in a nicely fleshed out rabble-rousing bag of wretched treats.
I'm biased. I produced a digital E.P. of Alasdair's work and so I had the chance to hear a few of these songs performed in my own home before hearing them live on stage in Ayr. So I'm already a fan. I hired him for an arts festival, so I know his back catalogue really well. There were times in the past when I thought it amazing that his fragile and melancholy voice seemed well at home in the virtually naked production of his albums of yore. But in recent years Alasdair's tunings have seemed to get a little more friendly and dare I say it - by the sound of his previous album, SPOILS - even cheery!
So what we get here is a well balanced and deeply flavoured platter of stories, dark and light, with many narrative threads and stark imagery, all with that vulnerable yet defiant voice. If anyone is wanting to take a souvenir of Scotland home, this has more authenticity that the tartan tat usually flung at Scotland's tourists and lovers of all things Celtic, buy this. This is "proper Scotland" as my dad used to say.
on 19 April 2013
I first heard of Alasdair Roberts when we saw him at a london club a couple of years back. What a performer - brilliant musician with an utterly original voice - and great, great songs. Dark, weird, spooky, charming - you name it. Above all: completely original.
on 22 September 2011
Playing this CD shot me back in time to the glory days of Pentangle and all those other bands that played fast and loose and marvellously with the traditional repertoire. I didn't think anyone was doing this kind of thing any more and the CD is worth whatever it costs just for the electrifyingly scary version of The Demon Lover. My queasy moment came with Little Sir Hugh, described in the notes as 'believed to refer to a specific historical event - the murder of a Christian boy by a Jewish girl in Lincoln in 1255 AD'. This is, in fact, a version of the so-called 'blood libel', an ancient 'urban legend' that Jews require human blood for the baking of matzos and that has been used as an excuse for revenge killings of Jews right down to our own times. Despite a clear disavowal of antisemitism by Roberts and a generous condemnatory quotation from Child I feel that the particularly malign history of this tale and the considerable doubt as to the veracity of the 'specific historical event' that this version is supposedly based on should both have been mentioned. And, for what it is worth, I am not Jewish nor am I a supporter of Zionism.
on 2 January 2011
I wasn't sure about this album the first time I listened to it. I now cannot stop humming or singing parts of the songs. It grows on you and before you know it you love it. It is so easy to listen to, beautifully put together.
It is highly accessible, a wonderful mix of folk favorites. Alisdair Roberts is a fine storyteller, introducing tales from celtic ballads and traditional songs.
on 1 October 2010
Best guitar and song interpretation since Bert Jansch at his best. Saw him for the first time at King's Place recently, displayed a knowledge, intelligence, wit, skill and charm above any I have seen in recent years. Place him somewhere between Chris Wood and Jarvis Cocker and you get the idea.