Grief In The Kitchen And Mirth In The Hall (Alasdair Roberts) – music review

Scottish-native and singer/guitarist, Alasdair Roberts has always loved the traditional folk music of his homeland, and again after two dozen or so solo and collaborative releases, he returns here with 12 traditional ballads. Recorded live in the studio over the course of two days, Grief in the Kitchen and Mirth in the Hall, a title that comes from a lyric from the final verse of “The Baron o’ Brackley,” Roberts performs solo, deftly finger-picking his guitar on most tracks, and singing in his Scottish brogue.

The album opens with “The Wonderful Grey Horse,” opens with Roberts singing the tale of a mysterious horse that appears early in the Biblical stories of Adam and Noah, but then moves through significant moments in history. While most of Roberts’ selections are Scottish in origin, the inclusion of Irish nationalists Patrick Sarsfield and Daniel O’Connell suggests that the song’s narrator was a supporter of the Irish Home Rule Movement, sung and written in the mid-nineteenth century. That one is followed by “Eppie Morrie,” a wordy, dramatic telling of the story of a young woman who is carried off by some who would marry her against her will, and how she escapes home.” These vivid stories seek to capture the whole of human experience, love and loss, personal struggle, injustice and tribal identity.

Roberts is a very talented guitarist, and an emotional singer, it’s not too difficult to see how these traditional music forms from the Celtic north country came to influence American folk songs by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, and future generations. Roberts performs several with just simple piano as a backing, “The Lichtbob’s Lassie” and “Mary Mild,” but his guitar performances are far superior, bringing these older melodies to life. There’s a quiet sameness in the 12 tracks here, but they paint a curious portrait of song as cultural memory, and historic reference, capturing the human desire to communicate and connect from a time and land now far off.

Brian Q. Newcomb
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