Shirley Collins: Heart’s Ease

Shirley Collins is an English national folk treasure. The Sussex singer made a comeback album four years ago with Lodestar, her first recording for nearly four decades. Now 85, she is back again with this new release Heart’s Ease which was made in Brighton with help from a few musicians, mainly playing guitars and a bit of fiddle.

Lodestar received many accolades and was also reviewed here. But, by her own admission, it was a more tentative offering after such a long absence. This is not so with Heart’s Ease which finds her in a more relaxed and confident mood, and the results will be completely engaging to anyone with an interest in traditional folk song from England.

In fact, it goes quite some way beyond that. Her main sources may be English but there are also some North American songs, while four of the twelve tracks are non-traditional. There is also a morris dance instrumental, and the final track ‘Crowlink’ delves into experimentation with hurdy-gurdy drone and the sound of crashing waves and birdsong.

Collins manages to grab the listener right from the start with ‘The Merry Golden Tree’ which, like many others, is complemented by a strong arrangement and some exquisite guitar playing. At the heart of the album is a superb new version of the much-sung ballad ‘Barbara Allen’ which even contains a bit of slide guitar. The song has been recorded many times (including by Collins in her 20s) but as soon as she calmly takes charge it seems as if you’re hearing the definitive version.

There is also a version of ‘Canadee-i-o’, a song once recorded by Bob Dylan and most notably by Nic Jones. The Collins version is different again but still rather wonderful in its own way. It’s followed by ‘Sweet Greens and Blues’ which has a lovely guitar and fiddle intro while the song itself is another highlight among an album of highlights.

Although her voice is obviously not the same as it was all those years ago, Shirley Collins quietly commands our attention on each of these songs and there isn’t a single misstep or dull moment. She has made another folk classic with Heart’s Ease.

Heart’s Ease is out now and is released by Domino.

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