COMMENTS & CRITIQUES
'Alex plays bloody wonderfully!' - John Renbourn
‘This is the best kind of music for me, beautifully written and wonderfully excecuted.’
Mark Chadwick - The Levellers
LIVE REVIEW 29-05-23
By Ben Niamor
First time for me in the barn venue, it’s a great space. Alex is no stranger to this place, and it feels like a really relaxed gig among friends. Alex played a good bit of material from his most recent release for us, Meridians and superpowers, the title track among the very best. And a mix of older songs and the odd cover.
Hacking back to the wild – about the peregrine falcon, words reflecting on the beauty and majesty of wild birds of prey.
Love too strong, a sincere note of adulation to his wife. Sharing such a heartfelt song whilst his muse is in the room is a wonderfully inclusive thing to offer the rest of us, and always feels special somehow.
I have highlighted but a few of the wonderful songs in this set, enough for any curious mind to look into this incredible musician, an artist I share with many looking for music that’s meaningful and well considered.
I love One More Miracle, inspired by terrorist legislation changes a little way back and how Jesus, should he of come back at that time, could have been mistaken for a terrorist.. as usual some deeper thinking with wry humour infused to keep it positive and the lyrics flowing.
“He said he couldn’t walk on water, I said he should learn to surf like me..!?” Understated and reflective as we have come to expect.
by Marc Higgins - Fatea
Alex Roberts has a fine set of pipes, a lived in soulful folk blues voice with a weary burr that means he could sing a takeaway menu and it would hold your attention. Couple that with his considerable skill on the rhythm acoustic, never overplaying, but building up that hypnotic strum and thump, along with the pairing of guitar and Graeme Ross’ Bass and the John Martyn comparisons are inevitable. The beautiful motif on “The Tamarisk Tree”, the distinctive pulse of the double bass and that slur on the vocal when it comes in, builds a Martyn hypnotic folk blues ambience that works a considerable magic. John himself said on “Road To Ruin”, “The Needle is new and the patterns are old”, recognising the timelessness of the jazz tinged folk blues miasma he and others both inhabited and generated. Alex’s press release flags his music as being for fans of John so I guess it’s a tradition he is comfortable with carrying on.
Roberts and Ross do present a very fluid, live acoustic sound and don’t sound like they are trying to be anyone else, just travelling the same road. “Petrichor” with another guitar motif and warm expansive vocal, is a song so well formed it sounds like a cover or traditional blues song. Alex’s vocal by turns triumphant then intimate is a soulful masterclass, underpinned by acoustic guitar flourishes. Mark Chadwick from The Levellers on second vocal and Ben Padley’s fiddle give “Hacking Back To The Wild” a darker less bucolic more Psych Folk feel, with a real edge to the playing and the lyrics. “The Sussex Wield” is one of two instrumentals, the tune passes between Roberts’ guitar and Tim Cotterill’s fiddle and you can lose yourself in the beauty of their playing. “Love Too Strong” is an intimate love song, literally questions to a lover. Like Martyn there is as much beauty in the timbre and burr of the vocal as the words being sung over the pared back jazzy strum. “Sixes Into Nines” adds a tasteful pedal steel to the sound. The instruments skip lightly over the languid vocal and longer notes. Again the sound is as intoxicating as the love song lyrics.
“Longing”, a song about anticipation, has a more electric feel. The interplay of the instruments is magical and Alex delivers a understated but passionate vocal. The album’s other instrumental is a version of “The Trees They Do Grow High”. Tim, Alex and Graeme play with feeling, with what sounds like electric guitar against bowed bass and fiddle, pulling every ounce of emotion from the tune. The title track is a definite album highlight, a stripped back arrangement, a stunning warn vocal with a little Damien Rice or Ben Douglas gravel and some sublime slide guitar. “Three Kisses” ups the tempo and tension, a very traditional blues lyric about searching over tight crackling playing and sparkling percussion. “Deserter” is a slow building long form song, high on Radiohead ambience it’s mixes acoustic and electronic sparkles while Alex delivers a superb soulful vocal. One for fans of minimal slowburn David Gray, with the nuanced performance being as important as the words delivered by the layered vocals. “Carry Me” over a glorious slurred vocal, adds an impeccably understated passing train harmonica shimmering through the rhythmic folk blues song.
The Church of the disciples of the acoustic troubadour is a broad one, with many members, some who are first or second generation acolytes and some who are just travelling in the same direction. Alex Roberts and Graeme Ross take that classic Martyn, Chapman, Harper blend of blissed reflection and funky light strum, mixing ancient and modern to make something fulfilling, engaging, very listenable and often genuinely moving. A contender for my best of the year list.
LIVE MUSIC SHOWCASE
Your Trusted Musical Guide
Alex delivered a complex infusion of styles & techniques with natural grace & sincerity. With a fresh & casual approach, the lyrical genius intrigued his audience as he conjured story & melody alike before them, always exuding the magical spirit of song... A sheer pleasure to witness such a natural & phenomenally talented musician
Alex Roberts’ Live At The Vic Inn spins gossamer folk webs that are saturated with his whiskey-stained voice. Not only that, but this live album (recorded just before the pandemic shut down) certainly gives credence to Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ prophetic line, “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”.
But thankfully, folk music is always current with deep roots that will weather time, bad politics, greed, and the occasional plague. Amen.
The first tune, ‘Wandering Aengus’, is yet another musical interpretation of W.B. Yeats’ poem. Christy Moore recorded a version on his Ride On album, which oozed with Christy’s usual devotional beauty. In contrast, Alex Roberts’ tone is urgent, with a desperate acoustic guitar voice, as he searches for that “glimmering girl/With apple blossoms in her hair”. It calls to mind (the great) Bert Jansch and John Renbourn of The Pentangle, with a lovely haunted Eastern vibe.
Then, ‘The Pyramid’ takes a raft trip down bluesy Americana waters and, quite frankly, with a dancing slide guitar, yanks the bandage off of the mythical “temple” doors and exposes the “pyramid scheme” that “dresses your children up as bankers” and leaves “no harvest for the world”. It’s a brilliant song that dances with the pure honesty of a really nice tune by (the equally great) Kevin Coyne.
There’s more Americana with the Lead Belly traditional tune, ‘In The Pines’, which is given graveyard judgment breath – with a tough hell bound razorblade guitar haircut.
‘Carry Me’ bounces with that very same spiked blues honesty that holds a pretty great hopeful hand in some mythical American rigged poker game, yet pledges honesty, because, well, in America, all bets dream the weird hope of that eternally blessed redemptive full house. We Americans are a strange bunch. Tom Waits often bared that paradoxical soul. And this tune haunts that very same dead man’s hand.
Now, as I recall, years ago King Crimson guy Robert Fripp once said something to the effect of “Everything is a microcosm of a macrocosm”. I don’t know, (and it’s just an idea) but, perhaps, with that comment, our ultima cerebral prog guitarist Robert may well have solved the “endless enigma” and explained exactly how “the bomp” ended up smack dab in the middle of “the bomb shibam shibam”.
That said, Live At The Vic Inn flows into that modern “microcosm” as this live record, recoded just before the covid shutdown, is certain testimony to the lovely electricity of a talented folk musician interacting with an appreciative folk audience in the momentary here and now. And, sure, magic was at ebb tide this year, and as (Sir) Paul McCarthy’ sang, ‘Man We Was Lonely’; but this is testimony to the many receptive ears, once again, eager for acoustic honesty.
By the way, the song, ‘Love Too Strong’ is “a certain surprise” that must be a sincere tribute to the hip percussive acoustic sound of (the sublime) John Martyn! Oh my! The tune “blesses the weather”, “looks through solid air”, and “only wants to know about love”. Yeah, it’s that good. Ditto for the instrumental ‘Durdle Door’, which is a gentle reflection on the thoughtful beauty found in both the “head and heart” of a lovely Nick Drake guitar tune.
And then ‘Hacking Back To The Wild’ buzzes with Eastern wisdom, and, quite frankly, glances at the potency of John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’ through the eyes Nature’s feathered soul that simply wants “to wander the sky and let my heart sing”.
And now to that “macrocosm” which expands over many years: It’s hard to believe, but this sincere folk music was once the big popular taste – way back in my adolescence of the wide-open radio waves of the 70’s. That’s a huge time ago. Heck, Gordon Lightfoot hit number one in the world with ‘Sundown’, and Don McClean stretched our collective attention span with the eight-minute plus ‘American Pie’. Big-time record label RCA shook the dice with Bob Martin’s (absolutely brilliant) Midwest Farm Disaster with its sepia cover that sported Bob (with an acoustic guitar in hand!) sitting on a huge hog roped to a human skeleton that lies in the dirt of the “disaster”. Ah, to quote Sir Paul’s protegee Mary Hopkin, “Those were the days my friend”.
To be blunt: Live At The Vic Inn embraces all the big historical folk dust. Or, as (the before-mentioned) Joni Mitchell once sang, “We’re captive on the carousel of time/We can’t return, we can only look/ Behind, from where we came/And go round and round and round the circle game”. Perhaps, that the best we can do. And this album does just that: It sings with that ancient “bomp” that somehow always gets stuck in the middle of the big “bomb shibam shibam”.
And, then that “bomp” slow dances through the lovely ‘Petrichor’, a song that settles like raindrops on a languid rural very English county road. Its simple passion conjures the contemplation of so many tunes from the 70’s folk heroes like Michael Chapman, whose song, ‘Among The Trees’, is always “watching as the dark shades of evening turn to night”.
Good folk music does that.
Then, and this is risky business, Alex tackles a cover of (the sainted) Richard Thompson and his ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’. No one will ever top the original. But the song is an accepted standard, much like RT’s ‘Poor Ditching Boy’. Let’s be honest: the ex-Fairport guy writes a pretty decent tune. Even Dick Gaughan covered the song on his Sail On album. So, this is sacred soil, and Alex slows the pace a bit and then respects tradition – which includes both the microcosm and macrocosm of humanity’s long-winded need for that pretty decent tune.
‘Jack of Diamonds’ ends the album with a final wave that evokes, once again, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn and all that British folky stuff that thanked Americana blues and fueled a rival back then, and now, with harmonica righteousness, once again.
Folk music resurrects the past. Yeah, gravestones get to sing, and well, they know all about humanity’s melodies that, sadly, “Don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. But folk music is also a satchel of musical seeds that, forever and a day, promise a new field of grain, and Alex Roberts’ Live At The Vic Inn sings with gravestone wisdom, and then it plants fertile seeds for an always current (and thankfully!) post-pandemic world.
THE ROCKING MAGPIE
Review of 'Live at the Vic Inn' by Alan Harrison
Exciting, Intriguing and Very Intimate Contemporary Folk Music.
I’m not sure why; perhaps it’s an age thing, or a rare side effect from the AstraZeneca anti-Covid jab, but I’m being drawn to Folk Music at the moment. Mercifully not the ‘finger in the ear’ type about fair maidens and flagons of ale, but rather some really exciting and innovative music by the likes of Alex Roberts. This is his ninth album and because I don’t move in the same circles, I’d never heard of him before he sent me a very polite e-mail a few weeks back about this release but I’ve had a couple of days when this is all I’ve played at home.
For a Live Album recorded in a pub the sound quality is exceptional, adding a warm texture to Robert’s well rounded and expressive voice, but oddly making his acoustic guitar playing sound as sharp as a cutthroat razor right from the opening track, Wandering Aengus. I don’t want to put off my regular readers when I tell you that this is a re-working of a WB Yeats poem. Fear not... this is actually a darkly beautiful tale accompanied by bouzouki playing so intricate, I swear at least two strings must have become entwined by the end.
Yes of course this is Folk Music, but you ‘get’ where Alex Roberts is coming from when you hear his plaintive rendering of Leadbelly’s In The Pines … whoa… whoa and thrice whoa; while this is stark and brooding, you can not only hear a pin drop in the room, but I guess the audience were afraid to breathe out for fear of spoiling the hypnotic mood coming from the small stage. If you’re still not convinced: Roberts almost reinvents Richard Thompson’s modern classic Vincent Black Lightning, slowing it down to a snail’s pace which allows each word and note to hover above you before fading into the ether.
Strangely with those two songs here it’s actually Alex’s own songs that are why this is album is worth taking a punt on. Love Too Strong is exactly what you would hope a song of that title would suggest only better and the oddly titled Petrichor is just as quietly stunning, even if you weren’t to know that it is a love song to the singer’s wife.
Personally I love the way Robert’s generally doesn’t start singing straight away on his songs; allowing his dexterity on the guitar enough room to guide you towards the words like a flickering candle; nowhere better than the biting Carry Me and The Pyramid too.
Now, selecting a favourite song has been difficult as so much here is well worthy of your valuable time, yet easy as who among us doesn’t like a song about a Peregrine Falcon? Seriously I was smitten with Hacking Back to the Wild the first time I heard it; not realising what the subject matter was. But the more I’ve heard it, the more this particularly moving song has stayed with me.
Its songs like this one which leave me standing in awe at the skill and imagination that musicians have and use to paint pictures with words and music alone, in a way I can’t even dream about, especially when they are as delicate as the instrumental, Durdle Door.
For the uninitiated like myself Alex Roberts comes from the school of folk musicians that spawned John Martyn, Richard Thompson, Bert Jansch and arguably the young Tom Waits and that’s not too much of a stretch, trust me.
Released April 20th 2021
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Album Review by Tom Franks
The depth of Alex Roberts’ songs is deceptive. There’s a man with laconic, almost world-weary vocal that ranges from endearing through sorrowful to tell simple tales, beyond that lies the penetration of a songwriter’s perception and an essential ability to drive home a message without unnecessary fuss or embellishment. The guitar-work is intricate and melodic, his touch subtle and restrained. Taken together, the songs on ‘The Daemon and The Eidolon’ are classy original folk. The mix on the album offers echoes of both blues and folk, with a nod towards tradition but a firm fix on contemporary, coupled with more than a little touch of invention. Originality is often used incorrectly as a catch-all word when describing musicians, in this case it’s a perfect word to describe what you hear on ‘The Daemon and The Eidolon’.
The Heptonstall Festival team were excited to be able to re-book Alex Roberts after missing out for a few years. We weren’t disappointed, he held the audience spellbound with his powerful, delicate and beautiful performance. It felt like a friend had come home. Be warned, book early if you’d like Alex to perform as he’s much in demand!
INTO THE WILD FESTIVAL
We Love him, The Audience love him, A real treat, What more can we say?
NEIL KING, FATEA RECORDS
He's got a very engaging style, gaps between the songs are definitely for talking to an audience not just for introducing the next number. Whether it's because he feels that songs come to him, rather than are written by him, Alex has quite a range of material. By that I mean he can write very personal songs; how many other artists can have a song about escaping the house as a five year old via the cat flap whilst dressed as an astronaut? To songs that have far more of a universal flavor. Regardless of whether he's playing folk, blues or anywhere in between there is a chilled feel to his sound. It's welcoming, inviting you into the core of the songs and he himself comes across an amiable chap that's easy to warm to. More importantly he filled the venue, he still came across as intimate... There's rumors of a new album later in the year, definitely one to listen out for
THE WEISSENBORN INFORMATION EXCHANGE
When you listen to Alex for the first time it's like meeting an old friend. He tells you intriguing stories in such a captivating way that familiarity is almost instantaneous. His honed song craft simply draws you in and holds your attention to the very last note. The warmth of his voice and the finger style acoustic approach are perfectly balanced. You can't help to be willingly immersed into his musical landscape that he diligently and seemingly effortlessly creates
WIMBORNE MINSTER FOLK FESTIVAL
The Latest Music Updates
Alex’s music comes from the heart & will touch your heart. His songs weave stories, & the music wraps them up in magic. Be prepared to be swept away
BOB FORD, WESSEX FOLK FESTIVAL
Your Trusted Musical Guide
Alex Roberts set at this year’s Wessex Folk Festival was one of the highlights of the festival. A superb singer and multi instrumentalist he easily held the audience who grew more and more appreciative as the set went on. A mixture of songs were held together with real story telling flare. This was a great set!
MIKE DAVIES - FOLK RADIO UK
Music News & Reviews
[this] album underscores his immersion in the sound of traditional English folk-blues and prime influences John Renbourn, Bert Jansch and an evocation of mellow early Dylan. A moody affair that combines both trad and self-penned numbers addressing the duality of the inner journey to truth and love and the outward journey of deceit and loss. [the album] illustrates just why he’s held in such esteem. Haunting indeed...
DOUG ALLDRED - ISLE OF WIGHT FESTIVAL
The Latest Music Updates
Alex Roberts was an undisputed highlight of our lineup in 2015. Superb musicianship and great songs - he should definitely be on anybody's 'to see' list wherever he performs. A true gem!
QUAY ARTS CENTRE
Your Trusted Musical Guide
a superb musician, contrasting advanced finger-style with sweetly understated parts
THE LARMER TREE FESTIVAL
Music News & Reviews
A firm favourite!
PURBECK FOLK FESTIVAL
The Latest Music Updates
outstanding, exemplary, and original
Your Trusted Musical Guide
A British folk singer we can be proud of. His songs make for beautiful soundscapes and evoke images of sun drenched wheat fields and warm beaches turning golden by the falling sun… one of this year’s best kept secrets.
KEEP IT FOLK
Your Trusted Musical Guide
The music and song that comes for Alex Roberts is perfect for any folk music setting. Original songs and a fine performance make for very good listening. so much so that I featured several of his songs in an edition of my folk music radio show Keep it Folk. I was very happy to spread the word about this amazing and original artist who paints such vivid and poignant images through his excellent musicianship.