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

Artist’s website:

‘The Evernew Tongue’: