- by Jeff Penczak Rating:8 Release Date:2016-11-04 Label: Domino
If you look up “legend” in the dictionary, you should find Shirley Collins’ photo. Last year Shirley became an octogenarian and now we have her first new album in nearly 40 years. I can feel my bones creaking just typing this review. Of course, new albums from 80-year old performers are not unique – Leonard Cohen just released his second (at 82), but objective listeners are poised for a let down. Surely, Shirley has lost some of that glimmer in her voice. But no, these tracks find her as fit and resilient as ever, and the tunes themselves do not let her (or us) down.
Collins goes for the jugular right out of the gate, with the mammoth, 11-minute medley that combines most of the elements we’ve come to love over the past half century: ‘Awake Awake’ offers apocalyptic visions of Merry Olde, while ‘The Split Ash Tree’ gives us the ominous drone of a hurdy gurdy accompanied by mourning pipes and a plucked guitar, and the finale ‘Southover’ harkens back to Collins’ love of the Morris Dance. Of course her voice is a tad matronly, but it’s the voice of experience and world weariness, and it suits the material perfectly.
You’ll sit spellbound as she regales us with the tale of ‘The Banks of Green Willow’ and revisits the tale of ‘Death and The Lady’ that she originally recorded with her sister Dolly nearly 50 years ago, rearranged with a weeping, bottle-necked guitar sliding along with her emotional delivery. ‘Pretty Polly’ still has us hanging on every word, awaiting the outcome of this centuries old murder ballad. ‘Old Johhny Buckle’ kicks up its heels across the dance floor for a welcome respite from the admittedly morose proceedings, and Collins still wrings every emotion out of the tale of ‘The Rich Irish Lady’ before it segues into the jolly jig of the flailing fiddlefest that is ‘Jeff Sturgeon’. The album ends with the tearjerking tale of ‘The Silver Swan’ swimming across the lake for perhaps the last time.
Sure, you may feel like you’re at an audience with your nana listening to tales of the olden days that don’t relate at all to your current life experiences, but everyone knows that nana has lived such a full life, that she deserves your respect and attentiveness. And you might learn a thing or three from her old tales. So sit back and listen to the dulcet tones of one of our greatest legends, as she shares what may be the culmination of a career that will be marveled at for decades to come. And who knows, maybe the success of this album will coax her back into the studio again! There’s life in that old silver swan yet!