Alasdair Roberts declared his love for British folk music in 2001 with The Crook of My Arm (Secretly Canadian), an acoustic solo album of songs he learned from the likes of Shirley Collins, Dick Gaughan, and Anne Briggs. At the time it seemed like a tangential ramble off the path his folk-rock band Appendix Out was on, but in hindsight it appears to have been a simple step forward. On the recent Farewell Sorrow (Drag City), he retires the band name in favor of his own and borrows more explicitly than ever from traditional material, hijacking ye olde tropes for his own purposes and even incorporating lyrical and melodic fragments of old folk tunes into his originals. Some of the words seem self-consciously stiff (“I know she rose early for I heard her sweet singing / Echoing over the flowering heath,” he recites on “The Whole House Is Singing”) but he uses them well, so I can’t get too worked up about it. On “I Fell in Love” expressions of passion morph into physical threats–“I will squeeze your lungs like the bellows of an organ / And blow on your bones like the pipes / With a rat-a-tat-tat on your skull like a drum”–but in a nice twist his Polly retorts, “I will visit the same upon thee thousandfold.” There’s nothing to leaven the tragic guilt in “Down Where the Willow Wands Weep,” where the singer loses his two children to a swift river current, and there’s no remorse in “Carousing,” where he sings of drinking: “I feel the sickener run in my veins / Holy pulse-quickener, easer of pains.” Roberts still expresses himself in the same vulnerable warble that’s led many to compare him to Will Oldham–who released the first Appendix Out single in 1996–but the Glaswegian has never sounded more comfortable with his native brogue. Chicagoan Rian Murphy, who produced Farewell Sorrow, will join bassist Bill Lowman (Bosco & Jorge) and guitarist Gareth Eggie (Appendix Out) in the band that’ll back Roberts here. Wednesday, October 22, 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508; also 5 PM, Reckless Records, 1532 N. Milwaukee, 773-235-3727.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Rikke Iversholt.