But always that voice wins you over, turning history into passion before your very...
Chris Jones 2003-09-22
As a paragon of the virtues that folk music holds in its cultural armoury, June Tabor must surely rate as number one. Her repertoire has never been blinkered by a quest for authenticity: she has covered all territories from Weimar ballads via jazz to the most trad of trad English folk. And yet, the sense of scholarship that she brings to her work never lets you forget that you are listening to, perhaps, the greatest interpreter and curator of indigenous British music. Unfortunately it makes reviewing any new album a damn hard task. Her worst is still better than most, and her best (cf: Abyssinians) resides in that rarified sphere reserved for albums like Blood On The Tracks or Dark Side Of The Moon. Luckily for this reviewer An Echo Of Hooves lies closer to the latter category.
The pewter tankard waving fraternity will be glad to hear that this is an album that doesn't step beyond the remit of Tabor's strictlyroots work. All songs are traditional ballads. Most originate from the border regions and, yes, a fair few seem to feature the horse as a central motif. The opening ''Bonnie James Campbell'' sets the scene with its tale of a fine young lord lost in the hills, with nothing but the bloodied saddle of his returning horse to indicate the violence at the heart of the story. As Tabor herself says, these are stark, urgent stories with little time for the niceties of poetry: tales of retribution, feuding clans, grieving widows and, naturally, stolen horses all delivered in an equally stark style.
This stripped-back approachreally suits Tabor's amazing voice. It's a voice that's lost none of its power to command your attention -listen to her strident intonation on ''The Battle Of Otterburn''. As usual she's joined by the brooding chords of Huw Warren's piano along with Mark Emerson on Viola and Tim Harries on double bass. The only nod to really traditional sounding strings is with Martin Simpson's deft guitar on two tracks, and Kathryn Tickell's Northumbrian pipes adding the requisite border feel.
There are times when the weight of history can make the going a little too dour - just compare her passionate rendition of ''Sir Patrick Spens'' with Fairport's more comedic reading. But always that voice wins you over, turning history into passion before your very ears: Unafraid, unadorned and completely beautiful.