Alasdair Roberts & Friends - A Wonder Working Stone (4 stars)

Diverse source material reworked into complex and idiosyncratic originals

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Alasdair Roberts & Friends - A Wonder Working Stone

(Drag City)

Those who (wrongly) have Alasdair Roberts down as a dour purveyor of funereal dirges might be surprised to hear the Trossachs troubadour launching into Scottish country-dance romp, ‘The Bluebell Polka’, complete with parping horns and a Welsh rap courtesy of fiddler Rafe Fitzpatrick. Yet such moves are characteristic of the confidence and imagination with which Roberts now approaches his music and the traditions on which it draws. A Wonder Working Stone boldly embodies [Scottish poet] Hamish Henderson’s concept of ‘the carrying stream’, a living tradition in which the old songs and customs are kept alive through reinvention.

Source material from Barra to New Orleans, to name but two, is reworked into complex and idiosyncratic originals. The inventive arrangements work such curiosities as shrunken goats’ feet and ‘Celtic’ shamanising around Roberts’ knotty acoustic finger-picking, while Shane Connolly’s ritualistic drums and the stinging electric guitar of Ben Reynolds bring muscle and flash.

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