Alasdair Roberts, The Crook Of My Arm

Chris Nickson

By Chris Nickson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
An unusual, but strangely alluring, collection of traditional music.

Nu-folkie Alasdair Roberts brings a very non-traditional sensibility to bear on this set of old songs and ballads. His stripped-down (just guitar and voice) approach and almost monotone singing might seem off-putting at first, reducing great songs to ciphers, but gradually they gain a hypnotic power that opens them up in a surprising way, even when he invites comparison with better-known versions. Although not strictly a folkie in the same sense as the others here, he displays a very thorough grounding in the tradition and a deep feel for the material. "The Wife of Usher's Well," for example, commands a brooding power that's only enhanced by Roberts's deliberately uninvolved vocals — it becomes almost journalism. There's an emphasis on Scottish songs — perhaps not too surprisingly, since Roberts is Scottish — but he performs the same low magic on "Lord Gregory" and "Magpie's Nest," two English pieces. Unusual, but strangely alluring.