When Alasdair Roberts sings, he sounds as pure a Scottish folkie as you could ever imagine, but listening to him play makes clear he's open to other musical ideas and influences. Collaboration with experimental musicians of several varieties comes second nature to him, and when Roberts was approached by Hans Kjorstad, a fiddler from Norway, he happened upon an especially fruitful creative partner. Kjorstad is one of the founders of Völvur, a Norwegian ensemble who are rooted in native folk but are also well versed in jazz, experimental music, and improvisation, and like Roberts, they can honor the pure roots of folk while toying with its frameworks to find new things inside. Roberts could have hardly asked for a more fitting group of musicians to work with, and on 2021's The Old Fabled River, the fruit of their collaboration, the notion works as well in practice as it did on paper. The curious, sometimes forbidding beauty of both Scottish and Norwegian traditional music is the beating heart of this music, and the musicians rearrange its building blocks so skillfully that on some selections, it takes a while to realize just how far afield they've gone in bending the melodies and adding unexpected tonal flavors to the performances. Four of these eight songs were written by Roberts, while three are traditional numbers, and one is an a cappella performance adapted from a poem by Robert Burns. It speaks well of the new material that in terms of mood and emotional impact, it's hard to tell the centuries-old numbers from the original compositions. If woodwinds and electronics occasionally wander into the arrangements, and the occasional atonal passage floats by, these musicians clearly love and respect this music well enough to rework it with love, not malice, and The Old Fabled River is a moving and inspired collection that followers of both folk and experimental music will find greatly rewarding.
© Mark Deming /TiVo