For his twelfth solo album, What News, and his fourth album focused exclusively on the performance of traditional songs, Alasdair Roberts has chosen a typically unusual and eclectic pair of collaborators: Amble Skuse and David McGuinness.
On past albums No Earthly Man and Too Long In This Condition, Alasdair relied on his deep connection with the material to anchor exploratory arrangements that would locate the hundreds-years-old songs in a contemporary milieu. For his first project in this vein since 2010, Alasdair had a desire to sing and not so much to play, so he asked early music scholar and Concerto Caledonia director David McGuinness (a previous collaborator) to play keyboard accompaniment. He started with the choosing of appropriate instruments: a 1844 grand pianoforte and a “Mozart-style” fortepiano of relatively recent vintage – the types of instrument they call in Holland “brown pianos” (as opposed to the “black” sound of the modern Steinway). To these, David added his own circa-1920 Dulcitone, a Glaswegian keyboard that plays tuning forks instead of strings.
While developing the arrangements, David hit upon an idea for an additional collaborator: sonologist Amble Skuse, whose work involves interactive, electronic performance treatments. This provided a third plane for the project, and thus triangulated, they were able to crystallize an approach involving a very open soundstage: David’s keyboard, Alasdair’s vocals and Amble’s structural soundscaping. This makes for beautiful and driven music that has no analogue in Alasdair’s catalogue – for while he has consistently pursued the dynamic fusion of songs from hundreds of years ago in a modern and progressive context, he has never worked with a keyboard as the central instrument.
What News stands artifacts of history in the unclear light of our modern day for us to compare and contrast. As always, it is shocking and delightful musical entertainment.
Artist’s website: http://www.dragcity.com/artists/alasdair-roberts