Alasdair Roberts – Alasdair Roberts (3 stars)

Scottish troubadour returns with another album exemplifying his undiluted, traditional folk wares

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Alasdair Roberts – Alasdair Roberts

(Drag City)

That this is Ali Roberts’ eighth album on Drag City tells you a lot about the rich seam of traditional folk balladry he has mined throughout his career. That he has, in all that time, remained resolutely untouched by crossover success is another signifier that the Stirling singer is, and will remain, an acquired taste. Folk gets more diluted as years go by but not by Roberts – he sings wizened ballads about knavery, weavers, shitty Lents, water diviners, and ‘the dry black bread and sugarless tea and penance’ as poet Patrick Kavanagh put it. Much in the same way that Dick Gaughan will stir your spirits with some rabblerousing paean to the proletariat, Roberts will turn your ear pining about a less than satisfactory harvest and the implications for winter.

So he is a man out of time making honest, earnest music steeped in authenticity. On this eighth album, his reedy voice has become even more pronounced and distinctive; a thin, plaintive and at times straining brogue, at other times a needy lament. Again this merely adds to Roberts’ allure as the unalloyed troubadour – it’s not all about the voice, y’see, it’s about the storytelling, the musicianship, the heritage, the purity, and the credibility. Roberts’ songs have some wonderful musical flourishes – and touch love, loss and death with robustness – but there is an essence of austerity at the heart of the music, of the traditional, puritanical, and respectful. At the beginning you wonder are these songs meant to be enjoyed, or instead, like church sermons, meant to be observed, digested, and quietly contemplated.

The colour and vitality of the album reveals itself with repeated listens. With the breezy opener ‘The Way Unfavoured’, the solemn strings and tin whistle of centrepiece ‘Hurricane Brown’ and the straight up loveliness to ‘This Uneven Thing’, Roberts deftly highlights his singular talents. This is not the record to lure those still immune to Roberts’ meticulous, unfashionable craft but his solid following will find plenty to be beguiled by.

Alasdair Roberts is released 26 Jan on Drag City.

Alasdair Roberts

Spectral singer-songwriter with ancient folk leanings.

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