When: Mon., July 15, 6:30 p.m. 2013
Earlier this year I read Rob Young’s book Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music, a vivid but sometimes labored account of the ways traditional British cultural tropes have been recycled, transformed, and preserved through living music traditions. For a more succinct and pleasant illustration of many of the same ideas, you might just give a close listen to A Wonder Working Stone (Drag City), the latest and easily best album from remarkable Scottish singer, songwriter, and guitarist Alasdair Roberts. His masterful mix of British folk and modern folk-rock puts him in the company of groundbreaking syncretists such as Fairport Convention, Pentangle, and Steeleye Span—another way of saying that, despite great work from the likes of Waterson: Carthy and the Unthanks, nobody in the past decade or so has done nearly as much to advance the cause of British Isles folk as Roberts. His excellent liner notes break down the sources for his original spins on timeless folk conventions—both their story lines and the influential versions that inspired him—and many pieces combine his own tunes with thematically linked traditional songs in seamless medleys about death, sex, desire, or history that make the century of their origin irrelevant. Most of the musicians on the album (one of my favorites of 2013) will accompany Roberts at his two Chicago shows, part of his first visit to the U.S. in seven years; they include guitarist Ben Reynolds (Trembling Bells), bassist Stevie Jones (Boneheads), and fiddler Rafe Fitzpatrick and drummer Shane Connolly (both of Tattie Toes). Sadly missing is singer Olivia Chaney, whose clean, honeyed voice serves as a soulful foil to Roberts’s tart brogue. —Peter Margasak Fatoumata Diawara headlines. Alasdair Roberts also plays at Square Roots festival at 4 PM on Sunday.