[Topic CD (2011)]
The open sea can be soothing, alluring, beautiful, drearily monotonous, or deadly. On her 18th solo album, Ashore, June Tabor has assembled a song cycle of pieces dealing with all of those aspects of the sea, those who sail upon it, and those left back on the shore.
This being a June Tabor album, one should not expect a selection of jolly sea shanties—the closest it comes to one is “Le Petit Navire,” a jaunty tune sung in French about the starving crew of a becalmed ship who are forced to eat their unfortunate cabin boy, “cooked in a nice white sauce.” The disc has an austere, sometimes spooky sound, with its spare instrumentation, when present, provided by accordionist Andy Cutting, viola player Mark Emerson, bassist Tim Harries, and (mostly) pianist Huw Warren. The disc opens with fiddler Ian Telfer’s “Finisterre,” sung with a world weariness and at a slower tempo than the version Tabor did with Telfer’s group, Oysterband, on their 1991 collaboration, Freedom and Rain. Tabor imbues “The Grey Funnel Line” with all the sadness and weariness one would expect from the homesick shanghaied sailor who narrates. Tabor recasts Elvis Costello’s anti-war ballad “Shipbuilding” as a bitter cabaret tune, anchored by Warren’s melancholy piano. For “The Great Selkie of Sule Skerry,” Tabor’s operatic delivery lends a dramatic cast to the ghostly tale of the doomed changeling. “The Oggie Man” blends nostalgia and regret, juxtaposing lost love with the changes wrought on the Plymouth docks by the German bombings of World War II. Tabor closes the disc with another dramatic reading of a historical ballad, Les Barker’s “Across the Wide Ocean,” which describes the forced migration of thousands of Scots to North America during the Highland Clearances in the 19th century.
The disc’s evocative music is enhanced by Judith Burrows’ excellent photographs on the CD jacket and accompanying booklet, showing a greatcoat-clad Tabor against a tableau of a bleak expanse of British coastline.
—Michael Parrish (San Jose)