Spoils CD - Drag City
Alasdair Roberts, a Scots musician who over the past decade-plus has been working to revive Celtic folk music, has a new record out, Spoils. Roberts is no by-the-book revivalist of the traditional, however, as his music typically incorporates more contemporary influences. Particularly felt here are the eerie idiosyncrasies of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy - who gave Roberts his first recording experience in the mid-1990s - and an air of abandonment, the likes of which have so worried the freak-folk movement.
Given that, there’s very little American about Spoils, however. Roberts’ heavy Scottish brogue, coupled with a penchant for the somewhat precious in his lyrics, which heavily employ the linguistic constructions of centuries past, ensure that the eight tunes on this record speak to the tradition of the British Isles. And not in the self-conscious way that even the best work of, say, Dawn McCarthy or Joanna Newsom does. Roberts’ roots evidence genuine blood and bone. “Under No Enchantment (But My Own),” although penned by the man, could easily pass for a traditional tune, if its guitars (including a baroque guitar), harpsichord, and violin didn’t take eight minutes to unfold. Opener “The Flyting of Grief & Joy (Eternally Returning)” offers, probably, the most Will Oldham style gothic approach on Spoils, Roberts’ vocal forlorn, lonely, and just short of fractured as he reports, “And then spoke Joy most grievously / Abandon hope and follow me.”
Everywhere, in the lilting melodies, the acoustic grounding of its songs, the odd lyrical concerns, this record is haunted by the past. Even the acid guitars employed deftly on “Ned Ludd’s Rant (for A Real World Rebarbarised)” and “Hazel Forks” can’t really drag Spoils into the 21st Century.
By Michael Meade