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Alasdair Roberts | Farewell Sorrow (Rough Trade)
"You can pray, pray and pray for life / But my friend, my dearest friend, please know this / That Life is but Death's own right-hand man / In every piece of his own left-handed business."
And so returns Alasdair Roberts, Glaswegian folk troubadour and keeper of song, with twelve more tales of death and murder and lusting and boozing. 'Farewell Sorrow' is Roberts' second release since he put the name Appendix Out to rest and his first for Rough Trade. It is also perhaps his finest work to date. Whereas his previous album, 'The Crook Of My Arm', was made up solely of traditional songs, 'Farewell Sorrow' incorporates but the odd line or segment, the bulk of it being penned by Roberts himself. However this does not lead to any dramatic departure, for Roberts' tongue is firmly tied to the past, the language and structures he employs aged and creaking. His sense of tradition and mastery of the word unfaltering and unrivalled in these times of bump 'n' grind (with the exception of fellow Amalgamated Sons Of Rest and spirit-brothers Will Oldham and Jason Molina, and maybe Gillian Welch). The most obvious way 'Farewell Sorrow' differs from its predecessor though, is that this time around Roberts is accompanied for the most part by a band. By enlisting (ex-) Appendix Out members Tom Crossley and Gareth Eggie and the ubiquitous Rian Murphy as producer, Roberts puts flesh on the bare bones and brings a contemporary edge to these exquisite and tender songs. Though they were already quite beautiful in their naked state, with a full band these songs soar, majestically. This is most striking on I Fell In Love where the instruments respond directly to the lyric. So when Roberts' sings "I will squeeze your lungs like the bellows of an organ" an organ obediently moans. The fullness of sound also lends strength to Roberts' voice â?? a raw and ragged thing at times, yet often as sweetly melodious as a lark. It is, however, always dripping with feeling, as if it is nothing but a humble vessel for his heart's outpourings. It is this overwhelming sense of honesty and conviction that makes this record so compelling and delightful. From the monochrome photograph of Loch Katrine and Ben Venue that graces the sleeve to the riches held within, this is an utterly gorgeous and mesmerising album.
CWAS #12 - Summer 2003