Alasdair Roberts is a softly spoken Scottish folk musician with a gorgeously fragile voice, a voice that feels entirely perfect for the traditional songs he commonly sings. For this album on Drag City however, all the songs are original. From what I’ve heard though, they feel sound just as special and well-worn.
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Alasdair Roberts has been paying due diligence to the folkie lifestyle for many years now, having just released his ninth full-length under his own name with little to no fanfare. The Scot is a commanding figure of the nebulous genre’s realest traditions, spanning back to a style that echoes how folk standards are played, or what you might expect from the actual folk circuit. While recent Roberts’ works have been ominous and twilit, his new self-titled finds himself in a contented and soothed state of mind. The record is, for all intents and purposes, a solo record with a little help from his friends -- whistles, clarinets and extra-special vocalists appear to wish him well, but let him do the talking, whether its with words or a knotty guitar melody.
Every articulation on this record is so perfectly rendered, which is a testament to Roberts’ playing style: there’s no carelessness in this folkie’s spirit, only an obsession with making the old and time tested sound new and unworn. The picking in “Honour Song” sounds endeavoured over, and the clarinet that accompanies his guitar is heard cleanly and warmly -- a testament to Sam Smith (nope not that one -- guess again) and his excellent work producing, to the space he has given the artists he’s working with. Roberts’ stories are a lot less contained than a recording studio is -- they’re about Scottish countrysides, communities and the many fractures of life -- but when I hear these songs, I can’t help but think of him in that studio, making his coarse words crystalline.
This is some of Roberts’ most pure and beautiful work. “Hurricane Brown” is an example of his ability to weave his standard sound around temporary dramatics, such as his barely echoing voice and the driving choruses of rising instrumental tinges. But, of course, the song recedes, gaining its balance for a final strummed chord and a sleepily fading cadence. It’s a testament to the frame of mind Roberts is in -- though these songs weather a couple of storms, they’re always left to wake up in calm morning light.
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