Whilst it might feel slightly against the grain that one of the most traditionalist-leaning lynchpins of the alternative folk world should find himself constructing a collaborative album over a long series of email exchanges, it’s still in spiritual keeping with Alasdair Roberts’s prior undertakings with the likes of the late Jason Molina, Trembling Bells, Mairi Morrison and Karine Polwart. Moreover, were it not for the accompanying press release revealing that this joint LP with James Green of The Big Eyes Family Players was assembled across a distance you could easily assume that Plaint Of Lapwing was carved into shape by the two in a well-furnished home studio somewhere in the Scottish Highlands.
Wrapped-up in reliably beatific bucolic packaging by acclaimed illustrator and Clay Pipe Music label owner Frances Castle – with ornithological artwork to rival Earth’s recently refashioned reissue of Bert Jansch’s Avocet – this limited vinyl offering finds Roberts handing-over his skeletal core songs (some self-penned and some covers) to be fleshed-out by Green’s multi-instrumentalist muscles. At times invoking the less lysergically-fried ruralist pastures within The Incredible String Band’s canon as well as Green’s own work supporting James Yorkston on the reinterpretations-based Folk Songs LP, Plaint Of Lapwing is rendered – via evocative and warming combinations of harmoniflute, guitars, piano, organ, bass, melodica, auto-harp, drums/percussion and more – with consummate craftsmanship.
Rolling in the hay of the opening “Anankë”; rambling through the woozy traveller’s tale of the lilting “Peacock Strut”; wandering in the twilight of “The Evening Is Growing Dim”; prowling in the brooding nocturnal ambience of “Boy Of Blazing Brow”; balmily reclining in the “Ballad Of The Speaking Heart”; stepping into the Celtic mist of the Timothy Neat-worded “The Left-Hand Man”; and cantering in the deceptively pretty “The Wronged Blacksmith”, the resultant recordings are frequently lovely and imaginative. Those that generally prefer Roberts’s steadfastly reedy and unvarnished vocals offset and softened by the fuller studio arrangements previously found on long-players like 2013’s richly-layered A Wonder Working Stone instead of the spartan likes of 2001’s The Crook Of My Arm or last year’s eponymous album, will certainly feel at home here thanks to Green’s equitable balancing of intimate and intricate accompanying settings.
Built through patience and friendship, filled with affection and gentle invention and bundled-up with the love of a label that curates with devoted care, Plaint Of Lapwing may not reinvent the wheel but it should find itself a welcoming perch with those that will truly love it.