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Alasdair Roberts - The Amber Gatherers

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Artist: Alasdair Roberts

Album: The Amber Gatherers

Label: Drag City

Review date: Feb. 14, 2007

For whatever reason — even though the two make similar music, record for the same label, and even work together occasionally — Scottish singer-songwriter Alasdair Roberts doesn’t inspire the same kind of reverent fanboyism as Will Oldham. The Bonnie Prince served as the producer of No Earthly Man, Roberts’ collection of traditional songs about death. It was a stunning record, favorably reviewed just about everywhere when it came out in early 2005 but not exactly an album that everyone was talking about.

This year Alasdair Roberts seems likely to fly somewhat under the radar once again with The Amber Gatherers, but those who spend some time with the album will find it richly rewarding. There’s no hype behind it, and no artifice; just warm and wonderfully recorded folk music from a modern artist who clearly knows his history. Aside from some tasteful subtleties — like the phase effect on “Firewater (Library Of Aethers)” — the recording sounds very much in the tradition of great British folk albums by the likes of Steeleye Span, Shirley Collins and Fairport Convention.

As a fingerstyle guitarist, Roberts could probably hold his own next to Richard Thompson or Bert Jansch, and as a songwriter he is incredibly skilled. He returns to writing original songs this time out, but his own tunes sound nearly as old as the traditional ballads on his previous LP. He’s developed an impressive ability to work within old song forms, somehow making them feel new without modernizing them much at all.

While song titles like “The Cruel War” and “Let Me Lie And Bleed A While” might suggest otherwise, The Amber Gatherers has a surprising number of cheerful moments. Death and conflict loom over much here, but there is palpable joy in the banjo-backed choruses of “Where Twines The Path,” one of several songs in which Roberts seems to declare his faith in man’s ability to recover from unfortunate situations. His pragmatic optimism and readily apparent knowledge of his musical predecessors has given Alasdair Roberts a songwriting voice that is wise beyond its years.

By Rob Hatch-Miller

Other Reviews of Alasdair Roberts

No Earthly Man


The Wyrd Meme

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