Alasdair Roberts

No Earthly Man

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Scottish singer/songwriter Alasdair Roberts has been quietly resurrecting the organic British folk of late-'60s and early-'70s traditionalists like Planxty and Dick Gaughan since his 1996 debut with the rural-folk combo Appendix Out. Like his American counterpart and frequent collaborator Will Oldham, his songs belong in neither the past nor the present, rather they cling to the listener like the ghosts of a sepia-toned future. On the quietly electrifying No Earthly Man, Roberts takes on eight classic murder ballads from the British Isles with dizzying results. Unlike Oldham, Roberts can actually sing, and it's his fluid and affecting tenor that makes each one of these brutal and long-winded tales of love, treachery and death so listenable. This is "old-school" British folk in the vein of Steeleye Span's Parcel of Rogues -- Oldham's warm production relies heavily on a combination of cello, percussion, guitar, fiddle, harp, dulcimer and the occasional synth -- that despite its bloody subject matter manages to engage on multiple emotional levels. For every moody cut, like the fratricide ballad "Two Brothers," there's an "Admiral Cole," a shipwreck tale that's positively lilting. Roberts and Oldham keep things loose and contemporary with off-key harmonicas and random bursts of guitar feedback, but the effect never comes off as anything less then authentic. No Earthly Man mimics the best of the genre as well as it updates it, resulting in an overall sensation of sitting in a darkened theater listening to the aforementioned Planxty's "Well Below the Valley" set against the closing credits of a Wicker Man remake.

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