Alasdair Roberts album review


Alasdair Roberts. (Alex Woodward)
July 25, 2013
ALASDAIR ROBERTS AND FRIENDS
“A Wonder Working Stone”

Kindred spirits: Fairport Convention, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Cate Le Bon

Show: Wednesday at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage. Show starts at 6 p.m. 202-467-4600. www.kennedy-center.org. Free.

Before copyright laws, everyone was a folk artist. Scottish singer-songwriter Alasdair Roberts upholds that eclectic tradition, combining old and new however he likes. “A Wonder Working Stone” is officially his first album of original songs in four years, but it incorporates words and music that have existed for centuries. Yet even when Roberts is borrowing so well-known a melody as “Red River Valley,” the results couldn’t be mistaken for anyone else’s work.

The album is quite properly credited to Roberts “and friends,” since it has an ensemble sound. Rock guitar and classical strings and horns temper the old-timey tunes and sprawling arrangements without overwhelming the musician’s plaintive tenor and spiraling guitar. The performances are natural and spontaneous, as if Roberts had just happened upon one of the world’s most nimble pickup bands.

In the Celtic manner, the songs often address sorrow and death, but in a boisterous spirit. The opening “The Merry Wake” sets the mood, and later tunes take unpredictable paths through haunted graveyards or fields burned when 19th-century Highlanders were driven from their land. Yet the final destination is not despair, as “Scandal and Trance” makes clear. “All days will end in joy,” Roberts and friends exult in unison, “they’ll never end in evil.”

Mark Jenkins

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