Musical Interlude: Alasdair Roberts & the Grateful Dead
There are very few things in music right now that excite me more than the words “new Alasdair Roberts record.” I became something of a Roberts evangelist last year when his album Spoils came out, and since then I’ve been availing myself of his back catalog, which includes several wonderful albums of traditional ballads and songs. His new record, Too Long in This Condition, is another collection of traditionals, and it is a delight. Sonically, it feels closer in spirit to Spoils–which was a (relatively) boisterous album of Roberts originals–than to his earlier traditionals records, in particular The Crook of My Arm, which remains (by a small margin) my favorite thing Roberts has put out to date. But there’s plenty to love about Too Long in This Condition. Highlights include marvelous takes on “The Two Sisters”, “Barbara Allen” and “The Daemon Lover”, the ecstatic jaw-harp-featuring “Kilmahog Saturday Afternoon,” and “The Golden Vanity,” this last being the record’s standout track. Also look out for “Little Sir Hugh,” which as near as I can tell is a song about Jewish blood libel–and I don’t mean “about” in the sense of “discussing” or “critiquing,” but rather in the sense of “features a Jew luring a child into her house and then murdering him for his precious blood.” Ahh, history!
As I’m sure you’re all aware, July 9, 2010 marks the 15th anniversary of the last Grateful Dead show, at Soldier Field in Chicago. This year is also the 40th anniversary of one of the band’s great studio records, 1970’s Workingman’s Dead. Road Trips series (Vol. 3, No. 3) is 3 discs covering the Filmore East in New York City on 5/15/70, and it features some great rarities like “Cold Jordan” and “Silver Threads and Golden Needles,” as well as several very fine “St. Stephen”s (two of which go into “Not Fade Away”) and the bluesiest “Deep Elem Blues” I’ve ever heard them do. Definitely my favorite thing I’ve bought from GDP since Jerry Garcia + John Kahn live at the Marin Veterans Auditorium (2/28/86), and speaking more generally, I think that the focus of 5/15/70 bodes very well for future releases- the increased space given to the band’s acoustic repertoire and the unearthing of uber-rare songs that have been seldom (or never!) put out on official releases before, are both very exciting developments. I hope to have the chance to buy a lot more releases like this one.