Alasdair Roberts - Fiery Margin - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Alasdair Roberts - Fiery Margin

by Bill Golembeski Rating:9 Release Date:2019-09-13
Alasdair Roberts - Fiery Margin
Alasdair Roberts - Fiery Margin

This folk album dips into the sunt kelda or the sweet well water of the Scottish island known as Saint Kilda.

In some review, I once said Alasdair Roberts and his former band Appendix Out would never be accused of being jaunty. Well, I was wrong. This album jaunts all over the place; it pauses all over the place; It slow dances, and it delivers drama all over the place. And it is Scottish folk music that still rings with the words of Burns’ wisdom that once proclaimed, “The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor, Is king o’ men for a’ that.”

The Fiery Margin is simply delightful in its self-penned tunes that touch the ageless paintbrush of tradition. The first song, “False Flesh,” is antiquated and urgently new at the very same time. The song stretches time. And, oddly enough, it manages to be jaunty in a very important way. Not only that, but its theme pretty much echoes the ethos of Burns’ “for ‘a that” poetry.

“The Evernew Tongue” is deeper stuff with drums and violin framing the song, while an electric guitar rides the spume that brushes against the shores of Saint Kilda and her island. This is a brilliant modern folk song, and it equals the authentic beauty of “The Dun Bride,” from Alasdair’s album What News, which he recorded with Amble Skuse, and Dave McGuinness.

“Europe” is slow with trad ballad piano insight. Now, Alasdair Roberts’ vocals are, perhaps, an acquired taste, as they are expressively reedy in a beautifully human way. Ireland’s Andy Irvine (of Planxty and Patrick Street fame) managed the same Woody Guthrie passion. And this album touches that passion. He also sounds a bit like (the great) Paul Brady, who is also a Planxty alumnus.

This record simply has the melodic heat, beat, and peat of civilized song. And that’s a tough corn rig to plow.

Great songwriting continues. “Comments” is a nice waltz of a tune that sparkles with a lilting acoustic guitar, while a pedal steel yearns (with a little Americana) in the background. “A Keen” resurrects the electric guitar, and with its plaintive violin, does conjure the memory of Fairport Convention’s Full House with its treasure of Thompson-Swarbrick songs. Then “The Stranger with the Scythe” is just wonderfully odd. The melody is the stuff of a music hall, with (almost) barbershop backing vocals, and it throws more pedal steel and a bleating sax into the mix.

Just an idea: For a fairly trad album, this is pretty entertaining. “Actors” pulses with an accordion, a deep bass, pronounced procession, and words that demand a lyric sheet and a bottle or two of Founder’s Dirty Bastard Scottish Ale. Ditto for “Common Clay” which manages to contemplate the inner thoughts of a gargoyle, who presides over the various churchgoers over so many years. It’s a clever twist of a song. And then the tune evolves into metaphysical depth, while the violin sways through complex time. “Learning Is Eternal” is simply gorgeous with Alasdair’s Earthy vocals juxtaposed with a lovey and pure female backing voice.

In some ways, this record reminds me of a Fellside recording from the 70’s, when the purity of the folk song was the ethic du jour.

In some other ways, this record recalls the slow-burning beauty of a Ralph McTell album like Not Till Tomorrow, which contains so many songs of equal charm, a charm that is revealed with countless spins.

The final song slowly spins with the same ancient warning from some Thomas Hardy novel, or some tune that (the also great) Shirley Collins sang. “The Untrue Womb” almost stands time in its stead. Again, the vocals plead to the heavens, while the guitar rales at the twists of fate.

Greek drama does that every once in a while, as does a good song from Richard Thompson.

I suppose this one is for folk purists. As said, it jaunts, pauses, dramatizes, and slow dances. Sure, the songs sip ancient Fraoch heather ale. But it is modern music, that thankfully, still flows from the sunt kelda, the sweet well water of Saint Kilda, the Alban fount from which this lovely and very Scottish music springs.

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