This Stone Also Rocks
Peter Jackson would benefit from a collaboration with Alasdair Roberts. Tolkien’s hobbits, dwarves, and other rowdy characters sing to drink, to mourn, and to celebrate. Roberts, a Scottish singer-songwriter based in Glasgow, mastered these traditions on previous records. But his latest, A Wonder Working Stone, consists of only original tunes. The influence of Gaelic and Scottish folklore remains, however, through fiddle, accordion, and unmistakable vocals. Rather than continuing to pay homage to ancient forms through imitation, Roberts adds traces of rock n’ roll on his newest record. This marriage of forms produces a unique, lovely sound that both modern and classical folk fans can appreciate.
The “And Friends” aspect of this project illuminates the cooperative and collective spirit so characteristic of Roberts’s heritage. Psychedelic musician and fellow Scotsman Ben Reynold lends a hand on guitar, as do Rafe Fitzpatrick and his furious fiddle. Modern rock sensibilities, then, don’t struggle to be heard. For instance, the opening track “The Merry Wake” features sick electric guitar riffs under a traditional Gaelic vocal style. The surprising twist that results keeps audiences listening and wondering what comes next. Irish punk even makes an appearance in the form of background sing-a-longs teetering on shouting in “The Year of the Burning.”
The most unexpected turn occurs in “Scandal and Trance / We Shall Walk Through the Streets of the City.” Over nearly eight minutes, Roberts and Friends explore a shocking variety of styles. A twangy Americana guitar doesn’t seem out of place, considering the folk inspiration. Hardly noticeable at first, standup bass diverges from its steady plunks into a jazzy rhythm. But then, out of the blues, an electric guitar sneaks in a John Mayer-worthy quasi-solo. Suddenly, Roberts and Friends are playing and singing as if recording with the E-Street Band.
This willingness to play and experiment on A Wonder Working Stone should convince rock fans of all genres to pick it up. Turns out, the British Isles has more to offer than beer and fancy leg-kicking dances. Alasdair Roberts rests his finger on a crucial milestone between the old and new, and he knows just how to push it.