Twenty-one years ago, June Tabor and Oysterband got together to record what is now recognised as an English folk-rock classic. It wasn't exclusively a folk album, though there were some traditional tracks, but rather an eclectic, powerful reworking of anything from Lou Reed to Shane McGowan. Now, at long last, comes the followup that so many of us have been asking for, and it's no disappointment. The energy is still there, along with the desire to startle and experiment, but so is a new maturity and emotional depth, and even greater variety. The traditional songs include Bonnie Bunch of Roses, in which the stomping backing is never allowed to overshadow Tabor's no-nonsense storytelling; then there's a glorious melodeon and fiddle-backed treatment of Fountains Flowing, that song of parting and grief, and there's delicate, unaccompanied vocal harmony singing on the Scottish lament (When I Was No But) Sweet Sixteen. The contemporary songs range from a fiddle-backed stomp through Dylan's Seven Curses, through to a thoughtful, gutsy reworking of PJ Harvey's That Was My Veil, and a pained, acoustic version of Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart.
The first time June Tabor and Maddy Prior made a duo recording, it was released under their names and was entitled Silly Sisters. On this, their second album, Silly Sisters is the name of the group. Officially, it still consists of just Tabor and Prior, but most tracks also feature Breton guitarist Dan Ar Braz, Welsh harpist and keyboardist Huw Warren, and various other guests. As with their first album, the program is a winning mix of traditional and modern British folk music. An eerie and haunting arrangement of Andy Irvine's "Blood and Gold" is followed immediately by an almost African-sounding instrumental by Ar Braz; Tabor and Prior perform a brief a cappella "catch" by Henry Purcell entitled "Cakes and Ale"; and the traditional "Hedger and Ditcher" shows up in an arrangement that features both bagpipes and soprano saxophone. But interesting as things get instrumentally, Tabor and Prior's almost telepathic musicality and sharp, reedy voices are always at center stage, and the songs are always well served by the arrangements.
This was a match made in heaven: Maddy Prior, the sweet-voiced singer for Steeleye Span, and June Tabor, a darker-toned solo performer who was already making a significant name for herself on the British folk scene. The collaboration was blessed by the presence of most of that scene's aristocracy, including guitarists Nic Jones and Martin Carthy, bassist Danny Thompson, and mandolinist Andy Irvine. But the album's most transcendent moments come when Prior and Tabor sing together a cappella, as they do at the beginning of the gentle "Seven Joys of Mary" and the more astringent "Burning of Auchindoon," not to mention the hair-raising "Four Loom Weaver." A few of these songs require a couple of listens before they reveal all of their charms, but all of them are worth the effort.
The trio Quercus delivers profound and moving interpretations of traditional and non-traditional song on its debut album, approaching the heart of the material by unorthodox routes. In this unique group, the dark voice of the great English folksinger June Tabor is framed and supported by the quietly adventurous arrangements and subtle improvisations of Iain Ballamy and Huw Warren. Warren has worked with Tabor for 25 years already and made important contributions to her albums. “His piano”, The Guardian has observed, “has teased out the deeper autumnal colours in Tabor’s range.” The nature of their association in Quercus is different, however. This is very much a collaborative band. Together and from different vantage points singer, saxophonist and pianist explore the emotional core of the songs.
June Tabor is an acquired taste, I've noticed. For me, the first listen to her way back in the late '70s had me smitten. What still amazes me is that she will not be bound by trends; wasn't then, isn't now. Folk music has enjoyed a revival over the last couple of decades, thanks to great, vintage folk and bluegrass reissue albums in CD format, and people like Tracy Chapman, who showed us in the 90's that a single voice with a guitar can still weave a spell, Bonnie Raitt, who stuck by her passion for the blues, even while she was trying other stuff, and Bob Dylan, who still has the muse in 'im…
Woman in the Wings is a 1978 debut solo album by Maddy Prior. It was produced by Ian Anderson, David Palmer and Robin Black. All the songs were written by Maddy Prior.