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Album Review

As both a singer and an archivist, Shirley Collins is a massively important figure in British traditional folk music, but she's also been something of an enigma since she gave up performing and recording in the '80s. To take her at her word, Collins lost confidence in her ability to sing when she froze on-stage during a production at London's National Theatre. While she's made occasional appearances speaking about folk history and was persuaded to appear on some sessions by David Tibet of Current 93, it was generally believed Collins' musical career was over. However, in one of the more pleasant recent surprises in U.K. folk, Collins invited some musicians and recording technicians to her cottage in East Sussex to help her make a record. The result, 2016's Lodestar, is her first solo album in four decades, and it's a bit different than her classic recordings of the '60s and '70s in both sound and feel. Collins was 80 years old when Lodestar was recorded, and her voice is noticeably rougher and lower than it was in her salad days. And while the musicians are in fine form here, Lodestar sounds a bit looser and more casual than her iconic recordings; the emphasis seems less on a historically accurate presentation of these songs and more on arrangements that are comfortable and satisfying for Collins and her players. In the liner notes, Collins describes recording field performances of some of these tracks while visiting the United States with archivist and historian Alan Lomax in the '50s, and in a sense, Lodestar was recorded in similarly informal surroundings, though the homebrewed sessions generally sound splendid. (They also make for some interesting details, such as the birds cheerfully singing as Collins makes her way through the violent ballad "Cruel Lincoln.") And though Collins doesn't have the same voice she did when she was younger, her sense of drama and her gift for defining a character in song have not dimmed a bit, and in some respects, the added texture of her instrument only makes her performances more apt. What comes through most strongly on Lodestar is that Collins doesn't seem at all interested in reclaiming old glories, or pandering to a new generation of listeners. Lodestar is the work of a woman who sings for the love of singing, and is as invested in the mysteries and joys of these timeless songs as she was half-a-century ago. The album isn't a comeback but a continuum, and a welcome return from a true oracle of traditional song.


Born: July 5, 1935 in Hastings, England

Genre: Folk

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '10s

Shirley Collins, though almost unknown in the United States, was an immensely important figure in Britain's early-'60s folk revival and the golden age of British folk-rock in the late '60s and early '70s. She is one of British folk's most golden-throated vocalists, and one of its most eclectic, handling traditional fare, Renaissance music, and folk-rock. Any discussion of her recordings must also note the important contributions of her non-singing sister, the late Dorothy Collins, who was co-billed...
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Lodestar, Shirley Collins
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