It is hard to imagine a more naked, difficult art form than unaccompanied ballad singing. The elusive Anne Briggs surely occupies a unique place in the history of the British and Irish folk revivals circa 1962-1973. Not only was she blessed with an unbelievably pure, sweet voice; Briggs also was a consummate performer on record, able to communicate with the listener in deeply moving ways. This 22-track collection brings together some of her finest traditional singing, and all four of her contributions to the legendary Bird in the Bush album (Topic CD 479) are here. Two songs ("Go Your Way" and "Living by the Water") are Briggs originals, while on the stunning "Willie O'Winsbury" she is joined by John Moynihan on bouzouki.
Briggs' repertoire should be familiar to any fan of British folk music. "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme," "Reynardine," and "She Moves Through the Fair" are amongst the treasures sung. But rarely have I heard these songs sung better, and when situated within the time of the traditional folk revival, these are influential moments: Briggs was the first to sing "The Recruited Collier," courtesy of Bert Lloyd. Briggs' ten-minute take on "Young Tambling" ("Tam Lin") is breathtaking, and when she raises her voice at the end of the ballad the effect is both powerful and chilling.
The liner notes for this collection are extensive and fairly enlightening, as Briggs crossed paths with many of the key players in the folk revival. Anne Briggs was clearly her own woman. Much is made of her 'wildness,' couched in terms of Briggs' freely roaming about the countryside, her beauty, and her fondness for drink. However, Briggs' voice belies her reputation. Admittedly, the market for solo singing has been small, but Anne Briggs embodies the youthful exuberance that made the U.K. folk scene so vital. - Lee Blackstone