Alasdair Roberts – The Crook of My Arm

Alasdair Roberts
The Crook of My Arm

Alasdair Roberts keeps himself busy. This Scottish artist fronts the band Appendix Out, which just released the impressive, slow-core style album The Night is Advancing. He also plays with Jason Molina in the band Songs: Ohia, which released an album fairly recently. And now he’s got a solo album, released on the same label as Molina, that goes far deeper into his roots than any of his previous works.
In fact, The Crook of My Arm goes so far into his roots, that Roberts is actually playing traditional Scotish folk songs. This album is basically just Roberts playing his acoustic guitar – and make no mistake about it, he is an amazing guitarist – and his quiet yet wide-ranging vocals. To say this album is folk is to link it to American folk, which it really isn’t. Feeling more like what you would hear at a Madrigal fair or Renaissance Festival, these songs tell stories that feel centuries old but are still breathtakingly pretty and quite involved. Fans of folk music will love this, even if the songs do have that native Scottish feel.
We start with the quiet “Lord Gregory,” which really lets Roberts show off the range of his vocals for an almost medieval sounding song. It’s contrasted nicely by “As I Came in By Huntly Town,” my favorite track here due to the deeper and more intricate guitars that evoke simultaneously Roberts’ work with Songs: Ohia and a John Denver song. But then “The Magpie’s Nest” sounds much more traditional American folk-country, mostly in the crisp, bouncy guitar sounds, while “Ploughboy Lads” sounds much more like the recent Appendix Out songs, with a quiet, restrained feel that still does seem modern.
The guitar is quite nice on the quiet “Master Kilby,” which has some nice lyrics I keep getting lost into. And “Standing in Yon Flow’ry Garden” perhaps has the most traditional feel to it. I can almost hear the people in flowing garments play this while drinking grog in an old tavern. The moody “The False Bride” seems to tell a tragic tale, or at least made so in Roberts’ moribund vocals and quiet intensity. It sounds very similar to “The Month of January,” but the closer, “The Wife of Usher’s Well,” changes nicely. This song puts more emphasis on the guitar again, and Roberts’ vocals flow so beautifully, while quiet bass lends this song a more involved and in-depth feel. This is another favorite here.
I’ve really only been able to describe the music, but you can’t just buy this for the folk-style acoustic music. Well, you can, but this is so much more. Roberts is taking a modern look at some very old or old-feeling folk songs from his country, something you don’t get to hear much of. These deserve to be heard. They’re quite involved and really quite lovely, and Roberts’ vocals and guitar are the perfect means of presenting them. Worth more than just a listen, this album should be treasured.