The music of Alasdair Roberts has such a distinct sound and cadence that it seems to exist on a separate plane, where ancient themes and stories converge with sophisticated, complex musical patterns. His almost mystical take on traditional Scottish fare and dedication to crafting original material in a similar vein have placed him in a category of his own since the release of his 2001 solo debut The Crook of My Arm. The trends he follows are certainly not of this century or possibly even the last one, yet somehow he has found a robust fan base and sturdy home with Chicago's Drag City Records. With the 2015 release of his self-titled eighth album, his style is still unmistakable, though the sprawling group instrumentation that adorned 2013's A Wonder Working Stone has been stripped away to the bare essentials, namely his tremulous high tenor voice and strident fingerpicked guitar. In that way, it rather resembles his debut, but where those early songs were a lovingly chosen set of traditional ballads, these ten originals see Roberts continuing to shamble confidently down the strange path of his own invention. His guitar work is superb, and the warm analog recording nuanced and full of depth. The songs are mostly solo, with Roberts adding occasional organ or percussive flourishes himself on standouts like "Hurricane Brown" and "The Final Diviner." Guest musicians are few, but well-chosen and highly effective. Clarinetist Alex South and tin whistle player Donald Lindsay appear throughout the record in bright dashes of color, as does the Glaswegian folksinging quartet the Crying Lion, which adds additional layers of depth, especially on the masterful "In Dispraise of Hunger," whose dissonant mix of darkness and sunlight is the perfect indicator of the kind of creative power Roberts now wields. For the casual listener, his music may be a bit heady and hard to follow, but for fans willing to be challenged, Roberts has delivered yet another excellent release.
Alasdair Roberts Review
by Timothy Monger