Intimate and sparse offering from talented singer-songwriter
Ned Roberts has raided his own personal archive for his latest album. Frustrated, like a million artists before him, at having to omit songs from albums because they didn’t fit within the flow of those particular collections, Roberts now revisits his first three albums to revisit unreleased out-takes, b-sides and alternate takes to produce the acoustically driven ‘From the Reels 2012-2020’
Robert’s early output had its roots firmly within the folk tradition and songs such as ‘Dark Brown Eyes’ and ‘Old Folk Song’ are both based on traditional folk melodies. While his more recent albums may have steered more towards Americana, the way that Roberts has crafted this album with its stripped-back feel and with only minimal accompaniment from other musicians means that the songs never really sound anything other than a high-class piece of folk.
That said, where those musicians are employed, their influence, although minimal in the main, are subtly effective in the way they bring another layer of sound to the tracks. ‘Slower Than the Sea’ is one of two tracks that employ the pedal steel of Joe Harvey-Whyte. The instrument is never employed more than as a haunting backing soundtrack to Robert’s majestic vocals but it is enough to elevate the song to another level.
In the context of the whole album these interventions are important in so much as this is an album that washes over you without ever really leaving an indelible mark in its wake. Robert’s vocals and sparse acoustic arrangement are a lovely thing but these accompaniments are needed to bring just a slightly different feel to proceedings.
But this of course is the whole point. When Roberts sat down with these outtakes his initial intention was to flesh out these originals into something new and, perhaps, bolder. Realising that these songs had a greater intimacy in their pared-back state and that, taken together, these rejected and re-invented tracks could work as a collective showcase of intimate acoustic songwriting, ‘From The Reels’ evolved accordingly.
For anyone familiar with Roberts work to date listen, for example, to ‘Wrong Side of You’. Originally a fairly upbeat song employed to open last year’s ‘Dream Sweetheart’ album it is revisited here as a melancholy, wistful lament. It is indicative of what is to be found on the album. This is gentle, thoughtful and lovingly crafted singer-songwriting.