Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Alasdair Roberts


I’ve been away from blogging for a few days, as I’ve been in Scotland for a family funeral. So naturally, music has taken a bit of a back seat. However, the flight to Aberdeen and back was soundtracked for me by Alasdair Roberts’ new album The Amber Gatherers. It seemed appropriate both because of his nationality and the slightly downbeat nature of the music, which suited my mood.

I had come across Roberts before, but in name only, and it wasn’t until I saw him supporting Joanna Newsom at the Barbican last month that I actually heard his music. And impressive it certainly was. Given that almost everyone in the hall that night were there to see Joanna and her only, the support was largely irrelevant, but it was great to have such an accomplished artist perform as we waited for indie-folk’s greatest harpist.

His songs struck me as proper folk. I mean that in a music world where any young pup with an acoustic guitar and wistful lyrics passes for folk these days, here was someone with a unique and strongly accented singing voice and lyrics about ravens, kings and rivers. Plus playing proper old traditional folk songs as well. Despite my tiredness as I sunk into my seat at the back of the gods, I was well impressed.

So it wasn’t long before I got myself a copy of his latest album. And it’s even better than I imagined it would be. In truth, I’ve listened to little else over the past week. A lot of his Barbican set was drawn from this record, and the familiar ones resonated while the new ones delighted.

From some internet research, I found out that Alasdair was brought up in Callander, Central Scotland, and was ‘discovered’ by Will Oldham (there are conflicting reports as to whether that was though demos or a gig), who released the debut 7 inch by Roberts’ former band Appendix Out on his Palace Records in 1996. After a few more Appendix Out releases and collaborations with the likes of Jason Molina and Oldham himself (full discog here), Alasdair released his first solo album The Crook of My Arm – a record of traditional folk songs – on Secretly Canadian in 2001.

The Amber Gatherers is his forth solo outing (and the third on Drag City), but is a return to more of a band set up. I haven’t heard the previous albums yet, but apparently they are more stripped down solo acoustic affairs. Not that the latest album has a big band sound, hardly, with the embellishments being limited to gently hit snares, accordions, backing vocals and the odd cautious bit of electric guitar. Because I downloaded it from emusic, I haven’t seen the songwriting credits, so don’t know if these are actually traditional folk songs, songs written in that style, or a mixture of both. My guess it that it’s probably the latter. Whatever, they’re all beautiful, haunting and otherworldly and it’s a wonderful, inspiring collection of songs.

Download: Alasdair Roberts – Where Twines the Path
Download: Alasdair Roberts – I Had a Kiss of the King’s Hand

Buy The Amber Gatherers.

He’s on tour throughout the UK in April. Go see him.

6 comments:

Matthew said...

A colleague of mine was really pushing him to me (they're mates I think, or he's a friend of a friend or something like that) and I liked his first album. This might be just the nudge I need to get into the new one - ta!

H-Bomb said...

Alasdair is exceptional. If you can believe it, he was supporting The Decemberists here in the states. Sadly, the apathy of the audience was so loud it made him pretty much inaudible. But, after the show I picked up The Crook of My Arm and was able to hear what I had missed (and I was sad I couldn't hear it better live)

The Daily Growl said...

Thankfully the Joanna Newsom support slot was at the Barbican, so there was a concert-hall hush throughout his set. I can imagine what it would be like in a normal rock venue though.

I hope to see him in his tour in April, and hear him too!

Anonymous said...

Love "Where Twines the Path." Play it regularly all year. There is a beautiful painting at Trossachs in 19th century of same title, worth a lok on internet.

P.S. I think title of your download should be "I Had a Kiss of the Kings Head"....or has iTunes got it wrong, n ot for the first time.

Good wishes.

ANONYMOUS - IRELAND

ithinkx Podcast said...

i love all 4 of his solo albums. he's incredible.

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