No Earthly Man
Without even realizing it, this is the album I’ve been waiting for from Alasdair Roberts. Composed entirely of traditional English, Irish and Scottish death ballads, No Earthly Man sees Roberts further refining the folk sound of his previous album, Farewell Sorrow, while revisiting and expanding the experimental instincts of Appendix Out’s swan song, The Night is Advancing.
The album’s confluence of tradition and innovation leads to some beautiful sonic combinations. “On Banks of Red Roses” is the most straightforward number, consisting of Roberts’s singular voice, fiddle and a tapping foot keeping time. “Molly Bawn” features a droning acoustic phrasing that’s overtaken in a mounting wave of deep cello and tribal drumming. Percussion is used to great effect on “The Two Brothers,” which bathes in the dark mist of unhindered crash cymbals and the screech of metal shot through with electricity, and “A Lyke Wake Dirge,” a sprawling, thundering ode to those on the way to the funeral pyre. Both provide a fantastic dream-like context for such long-lasting tales of folklore.
As wonderful as Roberts’s arrangements of this ancient material are, his voice is the star as always. It reaches a sorrow beyond sadness, world-weariness and resignation. It’s exactly the kind of voice you would want singing your praises at your wake.
No Earthly Man is proof that the book isn’t closed on folk music, that it can even thrive when given proper care, without relying on “freak folk” theatrics and affectations to do so.
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