Alasdair Roberts

The Fiery Margin

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Looking at the songwriting credits on an Alasdair Roberts album is an experience that rarely loses its novelty. It's nearly impossible to imagine that the ten songs on his 2019 release, The Fiery Margin, aren't ancient Scottish folk tunes cataloged by Cecil Sharp in the early 20th century. But it turns out they all came from Roberts' pen in the late 2010s, and his gift for composing in a traditional style is matched by his skills as a vocalist. Roberts' tenor is sweet but strongly expressive, and the strength of his accent is a boon to his storytelling, dovetailing nicely with the gentle peaks and valleys of the melodies. For the most part, the arrangements on The Fiery Margin walk the same tried-and-true path as Roberts' melodies and vocals, though he's willing to let a steel guitar plaintively cry on a few numbers, and "The Stranger with the Scythe" indulges in some eccentric mass vocal arrangements, as well as an out-of-nowhere discordant sax solo from Raymond McDonald. But most of the time, Roberts sounds like a time-traveling Scottish folkie, and a good one at that, who has been treading the boards for centuries. He performs with an expressive warmth that's engaging, and he has both talent and charm to spare on this material. Roberts' body of work is consistent enough that The Fiery Margin doesn't necessarily stand out, at least in comparison to his traditionally oriented work as opposed to more experimental efforts such as 2018's What News. But as an acoustic artist exploring the lineage of Scottish folk, he's a major talent, and this album captures him in splendid form.

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