The Upshot: UK folksinger and cult heroine Shirley Collins get the tribute treatment to fine effect.
BY JONATHAN LEVITT
When I was a kid my parents would play Pete Seeger records in the house. It kept open in my young brain a sensitive nostalgic spot for folk music. It wasn’t until many years later that I finally heard British folk music like Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention. I then moved on to artists like Roy Harper who managed to radically change my impression of what folk music could be. I must admit until this record crossed my desk, I had never heard of Shirley Collins. Outside the UK I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s the case for a lot of people. So it’s meant to introduce her canon of song to a whole new group of listeners reimagined by a younger group of artists.
As I played the record the first thing I noticed was how many of the songs are infused with a feeling of melancholy and nostalgia. I then proceeded to stop the CD and hunt down a copy of Shirley Collins album False True Lovers. I chose this album because on the Shirley Inspired CD I was immediately taken by Graham Coxon’s rendition of “Cruel Mother”. False True Lovers is an incredibly intimate album and one that taps directly into the long oral history of conveying stories though song, like minstrels playing their tunes of woe for any who’ll stop and listen. The fact is what makes British folk music so appealing is the link the music has with the landscape of the country and the sea that bounds it.
Take for example Slat Islands “Proud Maisrie” it’s a haunting rendition of the song that uses voice to bring to life the myriad bird calls and drone sounds one hears in the background.
I can see why this is such an expansive collection, Ms. Collins music is simply too good to limit to a single CD, and while not every new fangled rendition of these songs moves me, I am respectful of the musicians who tried to make them their own.
One of the most unique renditions of Ms. Collin’s music can be heard on Ruby’s version of “Bad Girl” which feels both retro and modern at the same time, with hints of psychedelia mixed in with Korg Kaosillator inspired blips and oscillations.
There’s a passage from the Ray Bradbury short story Fog Horn that this collection brings to mind. He says, “We need a voice to call across the water, to warn ships; I’ll make one. I’ll make a voice like all of time and all of the fog that ever was; I’ll make a voice that is like an empty bed beside you all night long, and like an empty house when you open the door, and like trees in autumn with no leaves. A sound like the birds flying south, crying, and a sound like November wind and the sea on the hard, cold shore. I’ll make a sound that’s so alone that no one can miss it, that whoever hears it will weep in their souls, and hearths will seem warmer, and being inside will seem better to all who hear it in the distant towns. I’ll make me a sound and an apparatus and they’ll call it a Fog Horn and whoever hears it will know the sadness of eternity and the briefness of life.”
Shirley Collin’s music is that voice calling across the water reminding we sailors on the seas of life that this music shouldn’t be forgotten. It’s a wonderful soul inspiring, mournfully imbued compendium of her songs that will hopefully continue to inspire an even younger crop of musicians on into the future. Like the Carrack ship on the album’s cover this collection has sailed out from the fog seeking to moor itself in the hearts of sailors and land lubbers alike.
DOWNLOAD: Ruby “Bad Girl”; Graham Coxon “Cruel Mother”