This month sees the release of a new album from Alasdair Roberts & Friends titled ‘A Wonder Working Stone‘ which will definitely rank amongst his most ambitious releases to date as he continues his interpretation of the tradtional music of Scotland and beyond with the help of some of finest musicians about. Included amongst his ‘friends’ are half of Scotland’s most interesting band Tatties Toes in the form of Welsh violinist extraordinaire Rafe Fitzpatrick and drummer (also a puppeteer…see the trailer below) Shane Connolly. Also joining them is the inventive guitarist Ben Reynolds as well as a number of other fine musicians. The talented Olivia Chaney also makes a special guest appearance.
Robert’s finger style guitar and vocals are unmistakeable from the opening but what takes place around the steadfast helmsman exemplifies the radical nature of the man and his freespirited approach. The opening ‘The Merry Wake‘ strides out in confidence with guitar and fiddle, not untypical, but all is soon transformed as Ben Reynolds steps in with electric guitar announcing a metamorphosis into a jazz inflected chorus and then back with tasty rim tapping rythmns from Connolly…when you think it’s over a deft guitar solo announces a new phase and duet with Chaney. This is by no means a formulaic album there are unexpected twists and turns but Roberts manages to keep hold of that tradtional sound, how he does it god only knows but the word genius springs close to mind.
Fusion of Horizons kills any theory on formula with an unexpected moodful opener, a soundscape more akin to The Dirty Three territory. Reynolds again taking to the fore for occasional free-style playing whilst vocals match the sweep of bow from Fitzpatrick who acts like the glue in controlling those psych-folk eruptions before pulling it all back in again.
These songs are epic in stature, and the addition of Reynolds, Connolly, Fitzpatrick and Stevie Jones (bass) creates the best combination I’ve heard on an Alasdair Roberts album to date, long lost brothers where the interplay feels spontaneous with a jazz soul.
You never quite know what may happen from one track to the next, unexpected musical shifts and movements entertain throughout with raucous party high choruses, pipes (The Wheels of the World), upbeat colliery sounding brass and even welsh rap courtesy of Rafe Fitzpatrick on Song Composed in December. Unexpected familar tunes arise on Scandal an Trance with that old cowboy tune Red River Valley, a tune made famous by the likes of Gene Autry…an unlikely opening for Roberts but a perfect match to his whimsical and playful love song to Caledonia.
The drive and energy throughout this album is captivating, where most albums may manage a few choice tracks to keep a listener drawn in close ‘A Wonder Working Stone‘ takes the listener on a ceaseless rollercoaster ride from beginning to end. There is genius at play throughout!
The Merry Wake
The Year of the Burning
Fusion of Horizons
The Wheels of the World
The End of Breeding
Song Composed in December
Gave the Green Blessing
Scandal and Trance
The Laverock in the Blackthorn