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Alasdair Roberts Spoils Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Scots luddite delivers eight cantankerous new folk tales.

Michael Quinn 2009

German-born Scottish-accented Alasdair Roberts continues his relationship with Chicago-based Drag City with a mellow but dark-hued fourth solo album.

Aligned more to the ancient traditions of the troubadour and the bard than their modern manifestation, the folk singer, Roberts clearly owes much to his elder compatriot, Robin Williamson, not least in his penchant for pastoral phantasy and his fondness for the arcane and antique. But there's also a discernible debt to the absurdist poet Ivor Cutler in Roberts use of word play and bending simple, nursery rhyme-like tunes to more cryptic ends.

The result is something altogether curious – like a series of medieval musical fables with one foot in the industrialised 19th century and another in the ''makeshift'' present. Where the dyspeptic but sprightly Ned Ludd's Rant (For A World Rebarbarised) sounds like the apocalyptic warnings of a dyed-in-the-wool Millennialist, the lightly dancing You Muses Assist references, ''sterile rams and simulacra'', St Columba and the Reaper himself. Under No Enchantment (But My Own), the closest Roberts gets to a manifesto – ''give up the gloom / just trust, just trust'', turns out to be a love song shot through with archaic rusticism.

There's a spiky cantankerousness about these eight new self-penned songs that prowls and probes with shark-like intent, the music soft and sleek as black satin on the surface, the lyrics beneath sharp and lacerating.

Inking in the musical detail is an esoteric array of instruments from past and present, with dulcimer, psaltery, hurdy gurdy and baroque guitar adding telling timbres of their own to modern percussion, guitars, piano and synthesizer. Roberts' reedy, nasal, high-pitched vocals add distinctive textures of their own to proceedings supported by a suitably diverse studio band, amongst whom can be found ex-Appendix Out colleagues, vocalist Garth Eggie and multi-instrumentalist Tom Crossley, and Concerto Caledonia stalwarts Alison McGillivray and David McGuinness.

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