Alasdair Roberts & Friends – “A Wonder Working Stone”

Alasdair Roberts & Friends
A Wonder Working Stone
Glasgow, Scotland
(Drag City)

“Alasdair Roberts burns down the Ren-Faire; there were no survivors”

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Roberts has long avoided the po-faced reenacting and sober role-playing usually associated with British traditional music. Instead, he has absorbed and digested various aspects of the hundreds of years old musics (dances, ballads, work songs, from all over the British Isles) he loves and presents it as a modern, living music.  He stretches the form and molds it like the mother bear licking her baby into shape (an old belief, oddly not present on this album).   All of these songs move through sections like an ambling hiker or cycles of the Earth (present on this album). He slips in and out of the auld songs and then adds another five verses of his own creation with a melody adapted from another traditional ballad before leading into a piping tune on “The Wheels of the World/The Conundrum,” the album’s centerpiece and longest song.

Tantalizingly for guitarists ,he tells us his tunings. If you’re into Eb/F/D/G/A/D or Eb/F/D/E/A/B with a capo on the third fret for the bottom four strings then this is for you. Roberts is a highly skilled and creative guitarist, albeit in the subtle fingerpicking way. He leaves the guitar solos to one Ben Reynolds, formerly of Trembling Bells. This is more a band album than a simple solo project (13 musicians!) with many passages showcasing brass-band style horns and pipes and fiddle. It does at first sound like Full House-era Fairport Convention (classic!) but repeated listening reveals a depth and inscrutability far deeper than that which Fairport achieved (I have been driven to Wikipedia many, many times by the lyrics on Roberts’ album). It is however, a long album. Getting the LP, broken up into sides, makes it much easier to tackle.

Recorded by Marcus Mackay

Additional Recording by Stevie Jones and Cameron Malcolm

Mixed by Cameron Malcolm with Stevie Jones and Alasdair Roberts

Mastered by Roger Seibel

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