Shortly before the conclusion of Electric Eden, a 607-page study of British folk music through the ages, Rob Young pauses to contemplate the current torchbearers of the genre.

Among those the author singles out is Alasdair Roberts, whose music, he writes, "hitches the solemnity and bleakness of tragic traditional songs to a visionary poetic diction that recalls Blake, Ted Hughes or David Jones, occasionally rising to bitter jeremiads worthy of a ranting Old Testament prophet".

Roberts hasn't read his copy of the book, he tells me over coffee and Ferrero Rocher ("a gift from a neighbour", he is swift to clarify). But mention of the author's name sparks the singer and songwriter into storytelling mode, providing a fable for aspiring avant-gardists along the way. "Rob Young was responsible for putting me on the cover of The Wire," he says, a half-smile spreading across his whiskered face. "I was like, 'What the f*** am I doing on the cover of this experimental music magazine?' And then it was almost like the work dried up for a few months." A rueful laugh ensues.

"I remember writing to another musician, a friend of mine; I don't know if I should mention his name." Go on, I tell him. You can always ask me to omit it later. "Och I'll say it - it was Will Oldham, and the theme of it was: the work has dried up since they put me on the cover of The Wire. And he wrote back: 'It's the kiss of death.'" Roberts laughs, something which, contrary to much of what you might have heard or read about him, he does frequently and enthusiastically.

Within his tale lies one of the difficulties facing such individualistic musicians as Roberts, who falls not between two stools but many. After seven solo records and a handful of earlier releases under the monicker Appendix Out, the 37-year-old could fill a swimming pool with the acclaim he's drawn. Though steeped in traditional Scottish folk music, it's unlikely you'll see him headlining Celtic Connections any time soon, yet you sense he'd relish the opportunity.

We meet on a dark evening in early January. Outside Roberts's tenement flat in Pollokshields the fires of new year have long been extinguished, replaced by an eldritch wind, nagging rain and the unflickering synthetic flames cast by rusted streetlamps. We're sitting in his kitchen - spartan seems the most apposite adjective - talking about tradition, the "muckle sangs", ritual and medieval lute music besides less earnest subjects. The guitarist from Wet Wet Wet, for example (Roberts and Graeme Duffin both studied under the late jazz guitarist Laurie Hamilton); the 1980s ("Some of my earliest pop music memories are Erasure, the Communards and Culture Club"); and being unable to sleep at a music festival due to the psychedelic exertions of the Flaming Lips ("I wish I'd seen them but I was ready for my bed", he says gnomically). Roberts is a thoughtful subject, quietly spoken but readily focusing on the conversation despite having spent the day in a Glasgow recording studio producing a record for the American musician Matt Kivel.

Primarily, we are here to discuss Roberts's eponymous new solo record, and whether the fact it eschews the full-on approach of its predecessor A Wonder Working Stone - officially credited to Alasdair Roberts and Friends, a loose alliance that includes Stevie Jones (Sound of Yell) and Ben Reynolds (Two Wings) - might bring him new followers. There's precious little of the "dronal, rustic 'dark Britannica'" Rob Young ascribes to Roberts's music on show this time around. If anything, I tell him, this is a record the traditional folk crowd could easily embrace - lyrical, direct, accessible.

"I never liked the term 'singer-songwriter' but it is a kind of singer-songwriter record," says Roberts. "In some ways the fact they're self-written songs might put off the traditional folk community but if they engaged with it they'd realise I see those songs as a contribution to the trove of traditionally informed music. I have quite a complex relationship with the idea of traditional music."

To learn why, we must look back. Roberts was born in 1977 in Germany to Alan Roberts, a Scottish folk musician and promoter who partnered Dougie MacLean for a spell, and his German wife Annegret (now a practising minister in Perthshire). "He was friends with guys like Alex Campbell so that was there when I was growing up, but it was the 1980s so I was listening to John Peel and pop music on Radio Clyde under the covers," he recalls. Did he rebel against his father's musical background? "For a while, until I was in my late teens and started digging around in his record collection and discovering guys like Nic Jones and Steeleye Span."

The tension between his folk and noise impulses raged for a while. "When I started making music in my bedroom when I was 16 or 17 it was a lot more sonic experiments using anything that came to hand on a four-track [recorder], just making a racket," he says. "As I've got older my focus has become more and more on guitar playing and singing, but that's not to say there aren't times when I like to make a racket."

Is it an urge fuelled by testosterone a la the psych workouts of bands like Comets On Fire? "Not so much testosterone. For me an element of catharsis or ritual is often important." He points to the wall, upon which hangs a modest hand drawing of an owl. "This is from my record No Earthly Man, which is all traditional songs, and the making of that record felt like a ritual. There's a song, The Two Brothers, which to me feels like a piece of ritual magic, and the way we arranged it tried to convey that."

Rewind a little, and the vinyl discoveries of his youth developed into a still-burning odyssey into the depths of traditional music from both south and north of the Border. Who does Roberts count as an influence on his singing voice - fragile yet bold - if not his guitar playing? "Dick Gaughan," he says after a long pause, "and Martin Carthy is an important figure for me. Nic Jones. I could name a lot of older traditional singers to listen to and study - Jamie Robertson, Lucy Stewart, Lizzie Higgins, Stanley Robertson, Duncan Williamson. A lot of traveller singers are my favourites - Sheila and Belle Stewart. There are so many great singers."

Such interests have underpinned Roberts's solo career since he jettisoned the Appendix Out name, resulting in parallel avenues comprising collections of Scots ballads and his own compositions. It's a duality off which the Callander-raised singer continues to feed. "When it comes to traditional song my main area of interest is the narrative ballads, the muckle sangs," he explains, "so I research those and sing them, then after a period of immersion I'll do some writing and the influence of traditional songs is obviously felt in my own writing.

"I'll adapt a tune or a turn of phrase or a conceit from a traditional source then take it from there. I'm interested in making new music but I'm also interested in the old music that informs it. I like the idea of the new work being located in this continuum of tradition but also being outside it. It's almost like an alternative reality."

Alasdair Roberts is out on Drag City on Monday.