Alasdair Roberts, MV & EE Medicine Show | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Alasdair Roberts, MV & EE Medicine Show


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On the new No Earthly Man (Drag City), Glaswegian singer and guitarist Alasdair Roberts completes a years-long metamorphosis: British Isles folk has rippled through his work ever since he formed the group Appendix Out in the mid-90s, but now he's wholly submerged in the role of Brit-folk archaeologist, historian, and synthesist. None of the new songs--nearly all of which are lurid murder ballads--are original per se, but like others before him he's felt free to alter traditionals with his own words and melodies and create composites of tunes culled from songbooks and classic recordings. His main goal is to shed light on obscure material: both at recent live shows and on No Earthly Man, he seems to savor every syllable, as if he's enraptured not just by the sometimes brutal, sometimes lyrical narratives of these ancient songs but by the act of continuing the folk tradition itself. The album was produced by Roberts's early champion Will Oldham--to whom he was once routinely compared--and the austere arrangements are filled with vivid details: Roberts's hovering electronic keyboard washes on "Lord Ronald" are punctured ever so slightly by Isobel Campbell's droning cello, and the rhythm section on "Molly Bawn" rises like an ocean swell without ever swallowing up the guitar, cello, and dulcimer. --Peter Margasak

Multi-instrumentalist Matt Valentine is a charter member of the New York freak-folk combo Tower Recordings, a group as hard to sum up in a catchy line as any ever has been. For the last few years, though, he and partner Erika Elder have been living in Vermont, where they've run their label, Child of Microtones, putting out limited-edition records with handmade art and generally engaging in a rural brand of minimalism. As the name implies, the revolving-door ensemble they call the MV & EE Medicine Show brings an old-timey feel and a sly, hucksterish hootenanny vibe to their blues-psych-folk-raga tunes. --Monica Kendrick

Alasdair Roberts headlines, MV & EE Medicine Show plays second, and Lichens open. Thu 8/25, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8.

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