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REVIEW: Alasdair Roberts and Natalie Brown brought Scotland home to CSPS

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Kelli Sutterman / Admin  ::   UPDATED: 21 January 2014 | 4:20 pm   ::  

An anticipated musical meeting that never came to fruition in Aberdeen, Scotland finally took place on the CSPS stage Tuesday night.

Local musician Natalie Brown, a violinist with a wide range of influences, recently wrapped up a year in Scotland. While she was there, she communicated regularly with Scottish folk musician Alasdair Roberts, and the two planned to play together. In the end, things never came together on Roberts’ turf, so Brown’s home crowd was witness to their first collaboration.

Brown, who is the orchestra director at Cedar Rapids Washington High School, opened the show with renowned local guitarist Craig Erickson. The two performed what Erickson called a “traveling set” in honor of Brown’s recent return from abroad. Erickson’s acoustic guitar blended beautifully with Brown’s violin, and he delivered appealing vocals over a range of songs quite a bit less raucous than much of his music.

Brown also performed songs she learned in Scotland, including “Hector the Hero” which she performed alone to close. The piece was lovely and melancholy, and might only have been improved had Brown unplugged her violin and played without amplification.

Alasdair Roberts clearly has wide interests that inform his music making. Along with his mates--Stevie Jones on upright bass and vocals and Ben Reynolds on electric guitar, harmonica, and vocals—Roberts performed original work as well as songs from his cultural heritage. He displayed a deep interest in history, in form, in language, and in the human condition, and he explored these things through his excellent guitar work and plaintive vocals.

Brown, who had met Roberts in person for the first time earlier in the day, joined the band on stage for several numbers, and her contributions were clear. Her sweet, rich, clear tone fit perfectly with the band’s textured sound.

One of the evening’s highlights was a set of four fiddle tunes from various regions of Scotland that Brown and Roberts performed together. The transitions might have revealed their extremely condensed rehearsal time, but what was far more evident was their musical compatibility. One hopes they might continue to collaborate in the future.

Roberts closed his set with an a cappella rendering of “The Sun Shines Down on Carlisle Wall,” which was simply arresting. Like many of the songs he performed, the ballad is lengthy, but his impassioned performance, supported by his two bandmates on the repeating lines, clearly captured the audience’s attention and imagination.

He returned to the stage alone for an encore, performing the catchy tune “Riddle Me.” On the heels of the powerful ballad, the song was a reminder that Roberts has a broad range of tunes in his repertoire and they explore an impressive array of emotions and stories. In the end, his unique voice—both his singing voice and his personal musical approach—tied everything together.

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