June Tabor


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Over the past four-plus decades, June Tabor has gradually transformed from a more or less typical (if unusually talented) product of the Great Folk Scare of the 1960s into something a bit more interesting: a folksinger with a repertoire that extends well beyond the traditional songbooks of the British Isles and into what can only be called art song. For many years now, her primary accompanists have been pianist Huw Warren and accordion player Andy Cutting, and her musical selections have gotten slower, darker, and more introspective. Ashore is a concept album of sorts, a program that centers on the idea of humankind's relationship to the ocean; a plurality of the songs are traditional (and include the familiar "I'll Go and Enlist for a Sailor") and the rest come from a startlingly wide variety of sources that includes Les Barker's opera The Stones of Callanish ("Across the Wide Ocean"), the writing of the great musical folklorist Cyril Tawney ("The Oggie Man," "The Grey Funnel Line"), and even the back catalog of Elvis Costello ("Shipbuilding," demurely credited to Declan MacManus). Age continues to do favors to Tabor's voice, which only gets richer and stronger over time, and the dramatic tendencies that have left minor flaws in some of her more recent albums are well under control here: she delivers "Le Vingt-Cinquième du Mois d'Octobre" with a perfect balance of intensity and restraint, and the same is true of her brilliantly understated rendition of "Shipbuilding." (Equal credit for that last one goes to Warren, whose piano arrangement is exquisite.)  When Tabor lays out on the simple and heartbreakingly pretty English dance tune "Jamaica," the effect is like a bite of sorbet halfway through a relaxed but rich and varied meal. Ashore is the product of decades of musical maturation and technical refinement, and is an unalloyed triumph.

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