July 2003 | BBC | Mel McClellan
In this second solo outing from the leader of Glaswegian underground/folk band Appendix Out, Alasdair Roberts’ melancholy, sometimes off-kilter voice narrates the listener through an arcane realm where gods command, women shapeshift into goslings and nature rules over flowering heaths and wild waters. If that sounds horribly twee and pastoral, don’t panic. This ensemble of original material is original in every way, notwithstanding certain echoes of Incredible String Band’s motley eclecticism, the pained isolation of Nick Drake and the neat integration of bits of British traditional music.
This latter trick points up Roberts’ skill: Join Our Lusty Chorus includes portions of Copper Family staple Sportsmen Arouse, Carousing utilises the tune to Bonny At Morn and familiar lyrical snatches surface elsewhere, but there’s no hint of tokenism or bandwagon-jumping. It’s informed, sensitive, entirely apposite. Someone named Polly (Truelove? Muse? Literary device?) appears in five songs by name and elsewhere, one suspects, by implication: as love object in the macabre I Fell In Love; as instrument of lust in Come, My Darling Polly – a solo piece whose quasi-contemporary imagery of black olives and red wine juxtaposed with archaic chastity belts and scolds’ bridles sets a tense temporal anomaly. Other songs might have emanated from The Mabinogion (Down Where The Willow Wands Weep) or Lothlorien (The Whole House Is Singing). Sparsely decorated with guitars, bass, drums and occasional glockenspiel, mandolin and piano, Roberts’ territory is unselfconscious, vulnerable, intelligent and dead cool.
At first hearing Farewell Sorrow is weird and shambolic; at second it’s elemental and natural; at third it’s beautiful, literate and compelling. Whatever that elusive X-factor is, Ali Roberts has it.