Glasgow, Scotland's Alasdair Roberts is one of the most creative (and subversive) artists working with traditional Celtic folk in modern years... Mixing traditional themes with a freak-folk and indie-pop vibe, Roberts has crafted a unique, singular sound -- or "sounds," really, as he changes from project to project -- and raised the bar for not-quite-trad Celtic folk. Roberts has a strong folk pedigree: his father, Alan Roberts, played guitar for Scottish balladeer Dougie Maclean and since his own emergence as a solo artist, Alasdair has worked with many of the brightest stars in both the pop and folk fields. Here's a quick look at his work...
Appendix Out "The Rye Bears A Poison" (Drag City, 1997)
Sad but striking, acoustic-based slowcore indie-folk... The lilt of later albums is buried here under a somewhat doleful, downcast vibe... Also, as with most of Roberts' work, I have absolutely no idea what his songs are actually about. This mopey early wor isn't quite my cup of tea, but fans of artsy lo-fi, ala Will Oldham, will find a lot to groove on here.
Appendix Out "Daylight Saving" (Drag City, 1999)
I'd say this album has more of a "rock" feel, a little closer to the intimate acoustic side of Elliott Smith, perhaps, but without the Beatles-y melodies. Despite the stripped-down, lone vocals with guitar sound, this is a more engaging and varied record than Rye,
Appendix Out "The Night Is Advancing" (Drag City, 2001)
Alasdair Roberts "The Crook Of My Arm" (Secretly Canadian, 2001)
I relish the times that Scottish avant-folkie Alasdair Roberts sticks to traditional music, and this album is certainly his most focussed, most "straight" reading of Brit-Celt trad, with songs drawn from the repertoires of artists such as Anne Briggs, Shirley Collins, The Dransfields, and Nic Jones... It's lovely stuff, although Roberts' doleful, depressive approach quickly becomes static, one sad, slow song after another, with restrained, rueful vocals and gentle guitar. There's very little of the bouncy melodic sensibility that makes his later albums seem so puckish and subversive. It's nice, though -- richly drenched in culture and soulfulness, an album that will grow on you, though it's just a little bit of a downer.
Alasdair Roberts "Farewell Sorrow" (Drag City, 2002)
The trad ballads ouvre is given a subtle indie facelift by Scottish rocker Alasdair Roberts, who refashions folk-ish material into multi-textured odd-ditties in much the same way Will Oldham has approached American folk music. Indie kids shouldn't be alone in their appreciation of this album: folk purists may hate it, but more open-minded listeners can find a lot to be cheered by here. It's moody, creative, and quite pleasant. Recommended!
Appendix Out "A Warm And Yeasty Corner" (EP) (Shingle Street, 2003)
Amalgamated Sons Of Rest "Amalgamated Sons Of Rest" (Galaxia, 2004)
Alasdair Roberts "No Earthly Man" (Drag City, 2005)
(Produced by Will Oldham)
Alasdair Roberts "The Amber Gatherers" (Drag City, 2007)
Alasdair Roberts "The Wyrd Meme" (Drag City, 2009)
Alasdair Roberts & Jackie Oates "A Selection Of Marches, Quicksteps, Laments, Strathspeys Reels And Country Dances" (Room 40, 2010)
On this brief, 4-song EP Roberts shows the same playful, rule-bending approach towards instrumental Celtic-trad as with his vocal material... He meanders and collapses into little melodic potholes, toys around with notes like a child turning a chunk or quartz around in their hand, generally doesn't seem like he's in too much of a hurry, or worried about getting things "right." Fiddler Jackie Oates is an able and amiable accompanist; together they share a nice song on the last track, "Hyperboreans," which fits nicely in with the rest of his work.
Alasdair Roberts/Various Artists "Revenge Of The Folk Singers" (Delphian, 2011)
Alasdair Roberts & Mairi Morrison "Urstan" (Drag City, 2012)
(Produced by Markus Mackay)
An interesting, challenging pairing of Scottish indie/folkie oddball Alasdair Roberts and singer Mairi Morrison, in which his unusual, genre-tweaking take on Celtic trad remains intact, but is complimented by Morrison's more jazzy leanings. In a funny way I'm reminded of the early, Jacqui McShee lineup of Pentangle, with its giddy, rough-hewn mix of British folk and jazz -- the two elements are more distinctly at odds here, but the erratic blend creates a compelling tension, a sort of idiosyncratic musical highwire act. Fans of Alasdair Roberts's work will find a lot to cheer for here -- this is a dense, multi-layered album, with satisfying and rich melodies as well as his trademark quirkiness; Morrison's contributions often come through assertively and abruptly, but they are a nice compliment to his style. Recommended!
Alasdair Roberts/Various Artists "Wonder Working Stone" (Drag City, 2013)
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