Some Like It Scot: Glasgows Alasdair Roberts gives death ballads a bonny spin. s Alasdair Roberts gives death ballads a bonny spin.

In Louis C.K.’s bleakly hilarious new sitcom, Louie, the stand-up has a bit about how hard it is to be optimistic about dating after going through a long marriage and an acrimonious divorce. He jokes, “I know too much about life to have any optimism…I know that when you smile at somebody and they smile back, you’ve just decided that something shitty will happen.” He then describes various bad endings—custody battles, cheating, and the worst scenario of all, living a long, happy life with your best friend, only to watch her die. Although stories of adultery and the deaths of loved ones abound in Alasdair Roberts’ Too Long in This Condition, the outlook in these traditional British folk songs isn’t always as harrowing—never mind that Roberts isn’t a comic and C.K. is. The wife in opener “The Daemon Lover” doesn’t just leave her husband and two babes; she also mistakenly takes for a lover the devil, who whisks her away in his infernal ship to the pitch-black hills of hell. The Glaswegian Roberts manages to spin this tragic narrative in that bonny way that seems exclusive to the Scots. The song’s buoyancy is due in no small part to Emily Portman’s lilting, perfectly matched harmonies. But the beautiful male-female interplay on “The Daemon Lover” and “The Lover’s Ghost” can’t mask their grisly carnage. With the exception of the black-metal band Nefarium’s “136 Bastard Priests Murdered,” I can’t think of any recent recordings with a higher body count than Too Long in This Condition’s. When Roberts sings of a “driver boy” paramour in “Young Emily,” we know it can’t be long before Emily’s publican father beheads the lad. It’s obvious from the start that the competition for the love of a courting knight in “The Two Sisters” will end in watery sororicide, when the “grim” one sends the prettier one into the drink for an involuntary Ophelia-esque float through the reeds. The only thing more predictable than all the bloodshed and heartbreak on the album is Roberts’ inclusion of the ubiquitous “Barbara Allen,” as delightful as it is. What’s been far less foreseeable is Roberts’ growth as a musician, from his unsteady vocal turn on Appendix Out’s “Ice Age” 7-inch in 1996 to the confident way he sings and plays now. It’s a sign of artistic accomplishment that on Too Long in This Condition he so consistently transmutes something tragic into something beautiful—even when that means singing sweetly about adultery and death.