June Tabor is probably the finest female traditional British folksinger of the late 20th and early 21st centuries -- if not the best British folksinger of her time, period. What links her to Britain's past traditions is the chilling and emotional qualities of her voice. What links her to the British present is her fine taste in material, arrangements, and backing musicians, along with a willingness to try different things and interpret work by contemporary songwriters. Tabor's first high-profile project was a duet album with Steeleye Span's Maddy Prior in the 1970s (the duo dubbed themselves the Silly Sisters for the occasion). An all-star cast of some of the leading lights of the British folk scene supported the singers, including Martin Carthy, Nic Jones, and Andy Irvine. For her own albums and tours she has worked with outstanding guitarists, most notably Jones and Martin Simpson. She's also trodden into folk-rock waters with Fairport Convention (with whom she's guested on-stage) and Oysterband (with whom she collaborated on a 1990 album). Her 1994 album Against the Streams found her still at her peak, interpreting both traditional tunes and efforts by modern-day composers, including Elvis Costello and Richard Thompson. Subsequent efforts include Singing the Storm (1996), Aleyn (1997), Quiet Eye (2000), Rosa Mundi (2001), Echo of Hooves (2003), At the Wood's Heart (2005), and Apples (2007). In 2011 Tabor released Ashore, a conceptual seafaring album that included a cover of Elvis Costello's "Shipbuilding" as well as reworkings of two of her more memorable songs, "Finisterre" and "The Grey Funnel Line." Also that year, Tabor re-teamed with Oysterband for Ragged Kingdom. In 2013, Tabor collaborated with saxophonist Iain Ballamy and pianist Huw Warren for the album Quercus on ECM.
© Richie Unterberger /TiVo
© Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Folk - Released September 9, 2011 | Westpark Music
With Ragged Kingdom, two of the linchpins of the British folk scene, June Tabor and Oysterband, team up for a second time, 21 years after collaborating on what's considered as one of the genre's modern classics. The former's second album of the year (following her critically acclaimed solo effort Ashore) adheres to the same formula as 1990's Freedom and Rain, with a mixture of traditional obscurities and unique interpretations of contemporary pop/rock songs, but backed by Al Scott's strident production it's a much bolder and more expansive affair than its predecessor. There are still the occasional moments when you can hear a pin drop, such as the eerie a cappella adaptation of 18th century Scottish ballad "(When I Was No But) Sweet Sixteen," the sparse acoustic blues treatment afforded to Shel Silverstein's Civil War-based "The Hills of Shiloh," and a stunning, and indeed very brave, stripped-back reworking of "Love Will Tear Us Apart," which is almost unrecognizable from the gloomy Joy Division original. But elsewhere, the joining of forces appears to have instilled a newfound sense of urgency on both sides, with Tabor sounding gutsier than ever on the impassioned cover of PJ Harvey's "That Was My Veil" and sinister rendition of the pagan-like Somerset carol "Judas (Was a Red-Headed Man)," while Oysterband's foot-stomping rhythms and surging guitars on pro-Napoleon opener "Bonny Bunch of Roses" (one of several mother-son dialogues between frontman John Jones and Tabor) and the furious cellos and propulsive beats on Bob Dylan's "Seven Curses" provide a captivating intensity that simmers throughout much of the album's 12 tracks. The lilting mandolins and folk violins on "Son David," which sits at odds with its extremely dark murderous themes, and the rather tiresome sea shanty makeover of James Carr's '60s soul standard "The Dark End of the Street" show that the pairing doesn't always produce "dream team" results. But they're the only real misfires on a record, which, more than two decades on, effortlessly rekindles the magic of their last effort, and is just as likely to attain the same cherished status. © Jon O'Brien /TiVo