Tuesday, February 20, 2007
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.