Alex Roberts’ Live At The Vic Inn spins gossamer folk webs that are saturated with his whiskey-stained voice. Not only that, but this live album (recorded just before the pandemic shut down) certainly gives credence to Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ prophetic line, “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”.
But thankfully, folk music is always current with deep roots that will weather time, bad politics, greed, and the occasional plague. Amen.
The first tune, ‘Wandering Aengus’, is yet another musical interpretation of W.B. Yeats’ poem. Christy Moore recorded a version on his Ride On album, which oozed with Christy’s usual devotional beauty. In contrast, Alex Roberts’ tone is urgent, with a desperate acoustic guitar voice, as he searches for that “glimmering girl/With apple blossoms in her hair”. It calls to mind (the great) Bert Jansch and John Renbourn of The Pentangle, with a lovely haunted Eastern vibe.
Then, ‘The Pyramid’ takes a raft trip down bluesy Americana waters and, quite frankly, with a dancing slide guitar, yanks the bandage off of the mythical “temple” doors and exposes the “pyramid scheme” that “dresses your children up as bankers” and leaves “no harvest for the world”. It’s a brilliant song that dances with the pure honesty of a really nice tune by (the equally great) Kevin Coyne.
There’s more Americana with the Lead Belly traditional tune, ‘In The Pines’, which is given graveyard judgment breath – with a tough hell bound razorblade guitar haircut.
‘Carry Me’ bounces with that very same spiked blues honesty that holds a pretty great hopeful hand in some mythical American rigged poker game, yet pledges honesty, because, well, in America, all bets dream the weird hope of that eternally blessed redemptive full house. We Americans are a strange bunch. Tom Waits often bared that paradoxical soul. And this tune haunts that very same dead man’s hand.
Now, as I recall, years ago King Crimson guy Robert Fripp once said something to the effect of “Everything is a microcosm of a macrocosm”. I don’t know, (and it’s just an idea) but, perhaps, with that comment, our ultima cerebral prog guitarist Robert may well have solved the “endless enigma” and explained exactly how “the bomp” ended up smack dab in the middle of “the bomb shibam shibam”.
That said, Live At The Vic Inn flows into that modern “microcosm” as this live record, recoded just before the covid shutdown, is certain testimony to the lovely electricity of a talented folk musician interacting with an appreciative folk audience in the momentary here and now. And, sure, magic was at ebb tide this year, and as (Sir) Paul McCarthy’ sang, ‘Man We Was Lonely’; but this is testimony to the many receptive ears, once again, eager for acoustic honesty.
By the way, the song, ‘Love Too Strong’ is “a certain surprise” that must be a sincere tribute to the hip percussive acoustic sound of (the sublime) John Martyn! Oh my! The tune “blesses the weather”, “looks through solid air”, and “only wants to know about love”. Yeah, it’s that good. Ditto for the instrumental ‘Durdle Door’, which is a gentle reflection on the thoughtful beauty found in both the “head and heart” of a lovely Nick Drake guitar tune.
And then ‘Hacking Back To The Wild’ buzzes with Eastern wisdom, and, quite frankly, glances at the potency of John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’ through the eyes Nature’s feathered soul that simply wants “to wander the sky and let my heart sing”.
And now to that “macrocosm” which expands over many years: It’s hard to believe, but this sincere folk music was once the big popular taste – way back in my adolescence of the wide-open radio waves of the 70’s. That’s a huge time ago. Heck, Gordon Lightfoot hit number one in the world with ‘Sundown’, and Don McClean stretched our collective attention span with the eight-minute plus ‘American Pie’. Big-time record label RCA shook the dice with Bob Martin’s (absolutely brilliant) Midwest Farm Disaster with its sepia cover that sported Bob (with an acoustic guitar in hand!) sitting on a huge hog roped to a human skeleton that lies in the dirt of the “disaster”. Ah, to quote Sir Paul’s protegee Mary Hopkin, “Those were the days my friend”.
To be blunt: Live At The Vic Inn embraces all the big historical folk dust. Or, as (the before-mentioned) Joni Mitchell once sang, “We’re captive on the carousel of time/We can’t return, we can only look/ Behind, from where we came/And go round and round and round the circle game”. Perhaps, that the best we can do. And this album does just that: It sings with that ancient “bomp” that somehow always gets stuck in the middle of the big “bomb shibam shibam”.
And, then that “bomp” slow dances through the lovely ‘Petrichor’, a song that settles like raindrops on a languid rural very English county road. Its simple passion conjures the contemplation of so many tunes from the 70’s folk heroes like Michael Chapman, whose song, ‘Among The Trees’, is always “watching as the dark shades of evening turn to night”.
Good folk music does that.
Then, and this is risky business, Alex tackles a cover of (the sainted) Richard Thompson and his ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’. No one will ever top the original. But the song is an accepted standard, much like RT’s ‘Poor Ditching Boy’. Let’s be honest: the ex-Fairport guy writes a pretty decent tune. Even Dick Gaughan covered the song on his Sail On album. So, this is sacred soil, and Alex slows the pace a bit and then respects tradition – which includes both the microcosm and macrocosm of humanity’s long-winded need for that pretty decent tune.
‘Jack of Diamonds’ ends the album with a final wave that evokes, once again, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn and all that British folky stuff that thanked Americana blues and fueled a rival back then, and now, with harmonica righteousness, once again.
Folk music resurrects the past. Yeah, gravestones get to sing, and well, they know all about humanity’s melodies that, sadly, “Don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. But folk music is also a satchel of musical seeds that, forever and a day, promise a new field of grain, and Alex Roberts’ Live At The Vic Inn sings with gravestone wisdom, and then it plants fertile seeds for an always current (and thankfully!) post-pandemic world.
Artist’s website: https://www.alexrobertsmusic.com/
‘The Song Of Wandering Aengus’ – official video: