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Sombre but nice
on 19 July 2011
June Tabor's latest album Ashore is another fine collection of ballads and street songs old and new, mostly from UK with a couple from France for good measure (not especially memorable though). It's a concept album, a celebration of the sea, for which June has a fascination, despite being born in the Midlands (and now living on a farm in Wales).
The album mostly has a slow, ruminative quality, not unusual for June. Some of the song topics are indeed bleak ones - death, drowning, parting, war, cannibalism, emigration, bitter weather etc. With minimal accompaniment by Andy Cutting on accordion, her partner Mark Emerson on violin and viola, Tim Harries on double bass and Huw Warren on piano, June's deep warm voice is well set off, aided by a very realistic recording. There is one a cappella track, The Bleacher Lassie of Kelvinaugh, and there are two instrumentals on accordion, a lyrical Jamaica (from Playford's Dancing Master of 1670) and a lilting I'll Go And Enlist For A Sailor (used as Morris dance tune). The album begins with a moody Finisterre, a 1989 song from the Oyster Band of which June was a member. Two songs are by Cyril Tawney, the lovely Grey Funnel Line, and Oggie Man, a dreamy yet deep yarn about a dockyard pasty-seller. Elvis Costello's Shipbuilding aches so much it becomes a little dreary, while the traditional Great Selkie of Sule Kerry is rendered very intimately, as if she is just having a conversation with the listener. After all, it is quite a narrative. In the traditional Brean Lament, some of which is spoken, one quickly feels the sadness of a sailors' graveyard. The album finishes with a lengthy evocative Across The Wide Ocean, from Les Barker's traditionally-based opera The Stones of Callanish about the Highland Clearances of the 19th century.
June Tabor eased gradually into a life of folk-singing, but the quiet strength of this album shows she was made for it. Definitely not for a party, but for a meditative quiet time that will allow the listener to absorb its depths.