Words by Tim Cumming
Roberts’ previous album, Too Long in This Condition, focused on the ancient, traditional wing of the folk repertoire, and proved to be one of his strongest. A Wonder Working Stone tops it with original songs steeped in history, mythology, the phantasmagorical, the cosmological, the universal and the personal. The music is complex, detailed and brilliantly performed by the album’s cast of 14 musicians, including Olivia Chaney, electric guitarist Ben Reynolds, fiddler Rafe Fitzpatrick and flautist Tom Crossley.
The opening ‘The Merry Wake’ stop-starts through a wealth of time signatures, set against Roberts’ powerful, imagistic lyrics processing myriad allusions to ritual, history, conflict and folklore. The guitar-led ‘The Year of the Burning’ draws on the highland clearances for its poetry of anger and defiance. ‘Fusion of Horizons’ has a cracking opening couplet – ‘Love is a fusion of horizons / It stupefies us more than it wisens’ – set against a strong, swampy guitar line and catchy pop chorus, featuring Chaney on accompanying vocals. Throughout the album, the big, brilliant songs keep coming: the cosmological ‘The Wheels of the World’, with its giddy closing vocal round; the hypnagogic ‘The End of Breeding’, set upon a Lammas Eve; and the mythological tale of incest that is ‘Brother Seed’, drawing on the ballad Sir Orfeo and relics of the Orpheus myth found in the Norm traditions of Orkey and the Shetlands.
The invention and freshness of the music matches the power and breadth of Roberts’ singular lyricism. While his voice is sharp to some ears, it carries its cargo like a fast-running water, sometimes pooling into stiller, darker depths, and delivering what is a tour de force with absolute belief and conviction.
TRACK TO TRY: The Merry Wake
(On Drag City Inc)