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Clay Pipe Music PIPE013

Back in 2012, Alasdair Roberts sang on two tracks of the Big Eyes Family Players album, Folk Songs 2, and shortly afterwards struck up a dialogue with James Green, leader of that very ensemble, with a view to collaborating on four songs (material left over from his CD, A Wonder Working Stone) for an EP project featuring the special, atmospherically antique if slightly eerie tones of the harmoniflute (a home-grown-sounding instrument somewhere between a harmonium and an accordion). Over time, the scope of that collaboration gradually morphed into a full-length (45-minute, 11-song) album, which now gains its release on the esoteric London-based label, Clay Pipe Music (home of all manner of exquisite limited-edition vinyl records, of which Plaint Of Lapwing is the latest).

It sounds for all the world like Alasdair and James were born to collaborate, joined-at-the-hip simpatico in respect of vocal harmonies and complementary musical outlook. At the same time, their literary sensibilities are also closely matched, and it’s indicative that Alasdair’s own songwriting, with its strong sense of tradition, is so uncannily well complemented by the four non-original pieces, settings of the works of other writers. There’s a Benjamin Britten arrangement of At The Mid Hour Of Night by Irish poet Thomas Moore and a poetical ballad-like narrative by Cornish film-maker Timothy Neat (The Left-Hand Man), while by spooky coincidence the two remaining selections (Violet Jacob’s Hallowe’en and Hamish Henderson’s Ballad Of The Speaking Heart) had both cropped up six years ago on the same CD by Lucy Pringle & Chris Wright. The harmoniflute could almost have been made to bedeck Alasdair’s songs, its unearthly timbre especially suiting The Evening Is Growing Dim and bringing an out-of-this-world aura to Boy Of Blazing Brow (which stretches back across to tradition in its strangely syncopated adoption of the melody of Ye Jacobites). But the album’s title song, with its complex structure, is arguably the most masterly creation here.

This is a beautifully crafted gem of a record, an illustrious addition to the extensive and diverse canon of releases involving Alasdair Roberts, whose contribution to today’s living tradition has sometimes (surprisingly) been underestimated.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 115 of The Living Tradition magazine.