ALASDAIR ROBERTS – The Fiery Margin (Drag City DC742CD)

The Fiery MarginFollowing the path laid out with Pangs, Alasdair Roberts has recorded another album of new songs that sound old. I must say immediately that I really, really like The Fiery Margin but I’m only just getting past “that’s a nice melody/that’s a good lyric”. It’s going to take several more listens before I really get to grips with it.

The opening track, ‘False Flesh’ falls into the nice melody category. It’s a jaunty piece riding on Alex Neilson’s drums but the jauntiness seems slightly incongruous given that the song seems to be about death and resurrection. Unlike Pangs, the roots of the songs can’t easily be traced back to earlier songs but they are there. The single, ‘The Evernew Tongue’, is derived from a mediaeval Irish consideration of the mysteries of the universe and the title sums up the idea of continual renewal perfectly in just three words.

‘Europe’ tells us that “the brink of extinction was looming in sight” – a touch of contemporary politics there – and mixes imagery of chess and card games. I haven’t really come to understand it yet. ‘Comments’ considers life’s journey and we seem to be back to the prospect of approaching death but ‘A Keen’, which follows it, is about a new birth, citing Clotho, who spins the thread of life in Greek mythology. ‘The Stranger With The Scythe’ is another perky tune decorated by Tim Davidson’s pedal steel – but who is that robed stranger?

‘Actors’ is probably my favourite track. We seem to be back with politics again and Alasdair packs a lot of ideas into its four verses. ‘Common Clay’ takes us into religious territory as does the closing ‘The Untrue Womb’ – as far as I can understand it. The Fiery Margin is an album of puzzles to unpick. I haven’t said much about the musicians yet, partly because this is a tight ensemble piece. Alongside Neilson in the core band are Stevie Jones on double-bass and piano and viola player Ailbhe Nic Oireachtaigh – by and large, Alasdair keeps the high notes for himself. Other decoration comes from Raymond McDonald, Jer Reid and Neil Sutcliffe and it’s mostly very subtle.

Can I just say again that The Fiery Margin is a brilliant album?

Dai Jeffries

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‘The Evernew Tongue’:

Alasdair Roberts announces new album The Fiery Margin

Alasdair Roberts The Fiery Margin
“Every song that’s nevermore sung/will sound again upon the Evernew Tongue”

Whether we understand the reference in the line, it sums up Alasdair Roberts new album The Fiery Margin and his approach as a singer and songwriter, now halfway through its third decade. Down the years, he has devoted himself to the history of traditional songs, playing them forward into our ever-evolving world as their meanings continue to evolve within him. Whether singing the auld songs, using inspiration from a line of text, or taking a time-honoured air as as a starting point to a new song, he has pushed the tradition ahead in ways that few other singers have approached.

Recorded at Anchor Lane Studios in Glasgow his forthcoming album, The Fiery Marginhas the distinction of being an exceptional recital whose origins could be ascribed to traditional Scottish, English and Irish music, not to mention the sounds of the world beyond. With the new single, ‘The Evernew Tongue’, Alasdair’s mastery of lush arrangements and distinguished vocals provide a new excitement for what’s in store during this new phase.

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‘The Evernew Tongue’:

ALASDAIR ROBERTS, AMBLE SKUSE & DAVID McGUINESS – What News (Drag City)

What News“This is proper folk music”, said my wife on first hearing What News. And it is: big songs full of blood, sex, betrayal and murder. I thought I understood Alasdair Roberts’ working pattern. There would be a traditional album, then a couple of sets of his original songs – very often embodying elements of the tradition – and one or two collaborations that don’t fit either category. What News is both traditional and a collaboration! Supporting Alasdair are David McGuiness, whose piano is the record’s principal instrument, and Amble Skuse who weaves evocative soundscapes around the songs.

First up is ‘The Dun Broon Bride’, a tale of a man marrying for money rather than love, with betrayal, two murders and probably a fair amount of blood. I blame his mother. The failed marital arrangements in ‘Young Johnstone’ are more complicated but the outcome is equally bloody. There is even more blood in ‘Johnny O’ The Brine’.

The style of the album comes from Alasdair’s desire to sing more and play less. He is a terrific unaccompanied singer – the songs seeming to inhabit his whole body – but, sadly, unaccompanied traditional singing isn’t as fashionable as it used to be. What News is a perfect compromise. Alasdair is singing at his very best as he gives each song every ounce of his concentration.

‘Rosie Anderson’ gives us betrayal and sex but also supplies an insight into the mores of the time, with the side having the most witnesses (at whatever cost) winning the divorce settlement. ‘The Fair Flower Of Northumberland’ is one of my favourite songs – mostly betrayal with added forgiveness – and Alasdair sings it almost as reportage; a nod to the album’s title. ‘Clerk Colven’ is essentially a simple song: our hero is told not to do something on pain of death, he does it and dies. Here it is the album’s big production number with Skuse pulling out all the stops – the sound of water combined with eerie droning notes and she doesn’t let up with ‘Babylon’, nothing to do the Home Service song and one I hadn’t heard before – always a bonus.

There are one or two songs I’m not familiar with, or rather variants that I hadn’t heard. I particularly relish a line in ‘Long A-Growing’ in which the bride complains that her groom is only twelve while she is almost fourteen. Game Of Thrones or what?

What News is a superb album – proper folk music!

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: http://www.alasdairroberts.com/news/

‘The Fair Flower Of Northumberland’ – an old recording with Will Oldham but all I could find:

Alasdair Roberts announces a new collaboration for a new album

Alasdair Roberts Trio
Photograph by Eva Gnatiuk

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.

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Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us. Can’t find what you are looking for? Search Amazon Store below.

Artist’s website: http://www.dragcity.com/artists/alasdair-roberts

The 2017 Folking Awards

Welcome to the 2017 Folking Awards. Last year’s inaugural poll was such a success that we had to do it again. The nominations, in eight categories, come from our ever-expanding team of writers and were wrangled into shape with sweat, tears and not a little blood by the Folkmeister and the Editor.

There are five nominees in each category, all of whom have been featured in the pages of folking.com in 2016.

As with the format last year, all are winners in our eyes. However, its not just down to what we think, so again, there will be a public vote to decide the overall winner of each category.

Soloist Of The Year

Luke Jackson
Ralph McTell
Kelly Oliver
Steve Pledger
Alasdair Roberts


Best Duo

Cathryn Craig & Brian Willoughby
Ange Hardy & Lukas Drinkwater
O’Hooley & Tidow
Ninebarrow
Show Of Hands


Best Band

Afro Celt Sound System
Fairport Convention
Harp And A Monkey
Nancy Kerr and The Sweet Visitor Band
Merry Hell


Best Live Act

The James Brothers
Robb Johnson and the My Best Regards Band
Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys
Mad Dog Mcrea
Megson


Best Album

Tall Tales & Rumours – Luke Jackson
Ballads Of The Broken Few – Seth Lakeman/Wildwood Kin
Preternatural – Moulettes
Somewhere Between – Steve Pledger
Dodgy Bastards – Steeleye Span


Best Musician

Ciaran Algar
Phil Beer
Rachel Newton
Gill Sandell
Kathryn Tickell


Rising Star Act

The Brewer’s Daughter
Hattie Briggs
Said The Maiden
Sunjay
Emily Mae Winters


Best International Act

Applewood Road
The Bills
David Francey
Michael McDermott
Eve Selis


Public Vote

The public vote closed Midday Saturday 22 April 2017 and the winners have now been announced HERE


If you would like to consider ordering a copy of an album for any of our award winners (in CD or Vinyl), download an album or track or just listen to snippets of selected songs (track previews are usually on the download page) then type what you are looking for in the search bar above.

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us

VARIOUS ARTISTS – The Food Of Love Project (Autolycus Records AUTO1CD)

The Food Of Love ProjectCommissioned to mark the Oxford Shakespeare Jubilee 2016, The Food Of Love Project falls into the weird and wonderful category. All the tracks are or were traditional – give or take Dave Moran and Nic Jones’ involvement in ‘Tom O’ Bedlam’ and Kirsty Law’s adaptation of ‘Go From My Window’ – but only a few are well known as are the performers, many of whom, like Stornoway, are based in Oxford. All the songs are performed or referenced in the plays of William Shakespeare, albeit “somewhat obliquely” to quote Alasdair Roberts.

The musical styles owe a good deal to the late sixties and as much to the nu-folk of the 21st century. Quite what Shakespeare would have made of Dead Rat Orchestra, I couldn’t say, but their opening sortie, ‘Bonnie Sweet Robin Is To The Greenwood Gone’, is a heavy example of early prog-folk. They had to provide new words as the original text has vanished and the connection is that Ophelia may sing the last line in Hamlet. And that isn’t as oblique as it gets but the result is that the musicians have carte blanche to experiment as much as they wish. ‘O Death, Rock Me Asleep’ from the wonderfully named Children Of The Midnight Chimes (actually Seb Reynolds and Tom McDonnell who curated and commissioned the project) is another example of heavy folk.

Elsewhere, Thomas Truax experiments with a steampunk version of ‘Greensleeves’, James Bell’s take on ‘Tom O’Bedlam’ is light and airy and Brickwork Lizards turn in a weighty performance of ‘Fortune My Foe’.

The final track is ‘Lawn As White As Driven Snow’, an eleven-and-a-half minute epic by David Thomas Broughton, which begins in a relatively conventional style and features two rather nice contrasting solos at its mid-point. The strange synthesisers are beginning the make their presence felt now and by the end has morphed into sonic strangeness.

I can’t guarantee that you will like everything on The Food Of Love Project and indeed there are a couple of tracks I might be wary of returning to but you can’t deny that it’s packed with musical ideas and there is a great deal that you will enjoy.

Dai Jeffries

Project website: https://www.facebook.com/Autolycus-Records