From the fertile urban trench known as Glasgow, Scotland, comes a knight on horseback. He wears not the cloth of his more famous neighbors — the Belle & Sebastians, Pastels, Arab Straps and Mogwais. No, this knight comes trotting out of camp with nary a stitch on his body. Bearded and weary, he’s got the look of a convalescent after a long night of hard rain. This isn’t your father’s round table story. There’s a new lord in town and his name is Alasdair Roberts. Most know him from the few beautiful records he’s recorded with his band Appendix Out (THE RYE BEARS A POISON, DAYLIGHT SAVING and THE NIGHT IS ADVANCING). He also recently played a role on the debut International Airport full-length, as well as repeated appearances on Songs: Ohia records. On this, his debut solo album, he offers twelve traditional Scottish, English and Irish songs, unaccompanied by anything other than his voice and guitar.
A word from Alasdair Roberts on THE CROOK OF MY ARM:
When I began to gather together some of my favourite old songs with a view to making a record out of them, it didn’t occur to me initially that most of them were love songs and ballads. I still don’t know why I was, subconsciously or otherwise, drawn to such material. True, the love expressed in many of these songs is often unrequited or tragic (there are many deaths on this record), but they are love songs nonetheless: at times beautiful, at times sick, and frequently both at the same time. Moreover, it was only after the recording session that I could see how this record could be considered a “suite” of songs (although making a “concept album” in the conventional sense was not my intention at the time). With hindsight, the connections between songs became more apparent. It even seems as if the very same characters turn up again and again in different songs: is the Nancy of “Bonnie Lass Among The Heather” the same Nancy as in “Master Kilby”? Is the long-lost lover of “Standing In Yon Flow’ry Garden” the same young sailor feared drowned in “Lowlands”? The themes are age-old, the situations and characters universal, archetypal. They gain their power from the fact that we have all experienced the beauty and sickness of love; and so each listener breathes his or her own life into the phantoms which populate the songs. Similarly, the performer is charged with the task of reanimating their dark and ancient heart, and in this regard I am greatly indebted to the many fine Scottish, English and Irish singers whose interpretations of the songs inspired my own. For the most part, I have stayed fairly true to the songs as I first heard them, only occasionally modifying a tune or editing a lyric (and in the case of “As I Came In By Huntly Town”, derived from the Aberdeenshire ballad “Bogie’s Bonnie Belle”, rewriting most of the melody). I also took the liberty of changing some geographical locations. Such tactics are, of course, likely to infuriate certain sections of the “traditional music” orthodoxy. On the other hand, underground rock music (a genre to which this record may or may not belong) places such a premium on the notion of artistic “originality” and “innovation” that many fans might dismiss the relevance of playing this supposedly long-dead music. In my own defence, I would cite Roland Barthes’ point in “The Death Of The Author” that in some societies “the responsibility for a narrative is never assumed by a person but by a mediator, shaman or relator whose ‘performance’ — the mastery of the narrative code — may possibly be admired but never his genius.” I would liken the subtle re- or de-formation of the songs in individual performances to the way years of footsteps gradually and imperceptibly wear down and remould a staircase.