Boomkat Product Review:
British folk music’s most important, historic voice presents her 3rd solo LP with Domino after returning from 50 years in the wild, including a song recorded with her sister Dolly in 1980, nestled amid a dozen new charms.
Shirley Collins is a national treasure and a legend in her own lifetime. Her songbook opened in the ‘50s as part of the British folk revival, which saw her introduced by Ewan McColl to ethnomusicologist and field recordist Alan Lomax, with whom she would live in London, before famously travelling to the US deep south, where they documented myriad strains and styles of blues and folk just as the commercial recording industry was beginning to extinguish their flames.
Decades of classic LPs followed between Shirley’s ‘Sweet England’ (1959) and ‘Amaranth’ (1976), and then next to nothing (aside a guest vocal on C93’s Black Ships Ate the Sky’ in 2006) until she returned, rare comet-like, with ‘Lodestar’, a quietly breathtaking album unusually but fittingly recorded with Coil & Cyclobe’s Ossian Brown, Stephen Thrower and Michael J York, that would revive interest to her voice of ages. After dropping the ‘Heart’s Ease’ session during lockdown in 2020, ‘Archangel’ now marks another enchanting return to her craft, largely shedding the subtly cosmic psychedelic dressing of the last two in favour of hearty, original folk paeans to her native Sussex.
‘Archangel Hill’ is absolutely primed for a hot summer in England with a semi-reprisal of Shirley’s Lodestar band, produced by Ian Kearey of ‘80s Canterbury folk rock/punk group Oysterband, and featuring Pip Barnes, Dave Arthur and Pete Cooper on drums, mandolin, acoustic guitar, fiddle, harmonica, accordion, dulcimer - a classic folk set-up, in other words. The baker’s dozen songs depict Shirley as an enviably spry 87 year old with a legendary voice steeped in studious and osmotic experience that echoes across eons.
From the classic pastoral English lilt of ‘Fare Thee Well My Dearest Dear’ to the knees-up Appalachian jig of ‘June Apple’ or the Irish-sounding ‘Swaggering Boney’, Shirley sounds incredibly comfortable in herself, exploring a spectrum of folk that leans hither/thither to captivating ballads set with stormy field recordings in ‘High and Away’ or ‘Archangel Hill’, alongside enchanting storytelling of ‘Oakham Poachers’, with licks of slide guitar nodding to US blues in ‘Hares on the Mountain’, and for great measure, a live 1980 recording of Shirley with sister Dolly Collins, herself a British folk legend, on ‘Hand and Heart’.