June Tabor,
The Definitive Collection
(Highpoint, 2003)

As one hears her recordings -- which by their nature do not easily lend themselves to the background -- June Tabor cannot help stirring mixed feelings. There's no doubt about her artistry or her intelligence, both considerable, or her ear for a worthy song. What is occasionally off-putting is the arch quality of her singing, which rarely affords space for warmth or humor or playfulness. Moreover, over the course of a long career, the icy qualities increasingly are joined to cold, synthesized (albeit sensibly spare) production. In the later albums one misses the human-scale comfort of a guitar or fiddle or mandolin, or -- for that matter -- the rock settings of the album she did in the '80s with the Oyster Band. There is no cut from that album on this collection, but I guess you can't have everything.

Yet this is a satisfying collection, with well-chosen songs that speak to her strengths as vocalist and interpreter of the tradition or tradition-inflected. Be warned that the dark is dark and the light doesn't get past twilight, except on the one cut ("The Barring of the Door") she does as a Silly Sister with a mischievous Maddy Prior. This is not a party record, but then it wouldn't be a June Tabor record if it were.

I like her reading of the grim Australian outlaw ballad "Streets of Forbes" and the lovely Lal and Mike Waterson composition "The Scarecrow" (the sort of cobbled-together-from-old-parts song Dylan might have written if he were English), but you'll find your own favorites to carry with you. One of them, I suspect, will be her moody reading of the traditional "Go from My Window."

Annoyingly to me, the burble on the back cover would have us believe, for some reason, that Tabor "is far more than a folk singer." I have no idea what this is supposed to mean, aside from the clear suggestion that being a folk singer is somehow not enough. Rest assured, June Tabor is a folk singer, and she proves that, with the abundant talent she brings to the job, that is a perfectly respectable calling.

music review by
Jerome Clark

7 February 2015

Review first published in 2004;
reprinted by permission.

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