June Tabor, Iain Ballamy, Huw Warren: Quercus
June Tabor / Iain Ballamy / Huw Warren
There won’t be many records released this year that draw from as deep a well as Quercus . Folk songs survive for generations because their meanings are profound and chime perfectly with their melodies. And few singers can reveal those meanings as magically as English folk legend June Tabor. The sincerity of her delivery is borne of a deep respect for words. She makes old songs live again and new songs sound like they’ve been around for years.
The piano is still an unusual instrument in folk music, but Tabor’s dark tones find the perfect foil in the the delicate precision of Welsh pianist Huw Warren’s accompaniments. The two have enjoyed a fruitful relationship for more than two decades.
Joining them on this live recording, captured in crystalline silence on a UK tour in March 2006, is saxophonist Iain Ballamy, whose restlessness has taken him from the anarchy of the seminal Loose Tubes collective to the avant-garde experiments of his Food duo with drummer Thomas Strønen. For Quercus, he strips back his harmonic pallet, responding to Tabor’s singing with austerely elegiac solos that respect the material even as they stretch it out into new territory.
The repertoire strikes a fine balance between old and new, icons of the folk canon such as As I Roved Out and Robert Burns’ s Lassie Lie Near Me rubbing shoulders with lesser known gems like The Lads in Their Hundreds , George Butterworth’s haunting setting of AE Housman’s elegy for doomed youth.
The emotional and political directness of the songs, and the affecting candour with which Tabor delivers them, offer a rebuke to the emptiness of so much of contemporary popular music.