Mairi Morrison and Alasdair Roberts - Urstan
If you’ve read any interviews with Alasdair Roberts, you know he is extremely insightful and verbose when it comes to the topic of folk music. The chat I had with him a few years back covered everything from the Book of Revelations to the Shaggs. But one of the things I love about Alasdair’s music is that he never lets intellectualism override the essential joyfulness of the folk tradition. Even on the sad songs — and believe me, the dude knows some sad songs! — there’s a feeling of warmth and timelessness that never leaves the listener depressed.
Perhaps bolstered by the bright presence of vocalist Mairi Morrison, Roberts’ latest, Urstan, is one of his most fun releases. Morrison hails from the Hebridean Isle of Lewis off the west coast of Scotland, and many of the tunes here are sung in Gaelic. You might not understand all the language, but the emotional content comes through loud and clear, thanks to Roberts’ and Morrisons’ close harmonies. The elegiac “E Ho Leigein” is a highlight, as their voices weave a wonderful tapestry, backed by a gentle bed of fiddle and organ. The opener “Mìle Marbhphaisg air a’ Ghaol” is another great one, as the band navigates impossibly tricky tempo changes.
Calling what Roberts does “traditional folk” seems like a disservice, in that the “traditional” part makes it sound too museum-y, too dead. Folk in his hands is a living, breathing thing, something that connects us to the past, yes, but also to the present and the future. Dig it!