April 2005 | Uncut | Louis Pattison
Will Oldham-assisted third solo LP for true Scottish laird of the Drag City roster.
On her debut album, The Milk-Eyed Mender, Joanna Newsom sings: “This is not my tune/But it’s mine to use”. Fine, but it’s a sentiment that’s guided her Drag City labelmate Roberts from day one. Since fronting mid’90s Glaswegian trio Appendix Out, the influence of Scottish folk has stalked like a phantom through his music. Only now, on No Earthly Man – produced by friend and mentor Will Oldham – is that presence fully manifest.
No Earthly Man is a suite of traditional ballads, some faithful, some adapted, but thematically all in death’s shadow. Revived by Roberts’ clear, quavering brogue, these songs become more than apparitions.
“Sweet William” – a fiddle-led number that crossed the Atlantic with the pioneers – crackles with mystique without resorting to self-conscious affectation. And Oldham occasionally pipes up in song, as on “Lord Ronald” – an eight-minute tale of a poisoning that sees keyboard, guitar and cello bound together in a spellbinding drone.
A near-faultless record from Roberts: truly, death becomes him.