Why is it that traditional Scottish and Irish music doesn’t cross over into the indie realm more often? Sure, The Chieftans just cut a record with Bon Iver and The Decemberists, but what about true cross-pollination? Where’s our Celtgaze? And what about Gaelwave? Wherefore art thou, Hip-HopScotch? Dub(lin)step? Get on that, Brooklyn. Let’s start a revolution.
Urstan is one of those collaborations that makes so much sense that you have to wonder why it hadn’t come earlier. Alasdair Roberts is a folk singer who’s been quietly putting out a stream of highly listenable, Celtic-influenced records on Drag City at a fairly prolific rate, even amongst a roster of labelmates that boasts such output-happy artists as Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Neil Hagerty. Here he’s teamed up with singer Mairi Morrison, a Gaelic-speaking Isle of Lewis native, to perform a number of traditional pieces with a few newly penned songs peppered in. Several of the Gaelic-language traditionals are sad-sounding but pretty: E Ho Leigein is a stripped-down ballad, while Ailein Duinn plays out over top a low-pitch dirge. LÃ rach do Thacaidean presents another side of the coin, an upbeat and jazzy piece featuring finger-plucked guitar and harmonica. The few English-language pieces are easier to sing along with, particularly the catchy cautionary tale Never Wed an Old Man.
For Roberts, who was treading dangerously close to diminishing returns with each release, it’s a record that sounds distinctly different than the last few and should be refreshing to his followers. For Morrison, a relative unknown in the U.S., it could perhaps pave the way to an international audience. She possesses a beautiful, soothing voice, even when she’s singing in a language common to only a handful of small islands. Urstan is worth a plunge, even for listeners new to the musical genre.
Essential Tracks: LÃ rach do Thacaidean, Never Wed an Old Man