June Tabor - An Echo of Hooves
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June Tabor
An Echo of Hooves
Topic Records (www.topicrecords.co.uk) cd cover

Put another one in the "win" column for June Tabor. An Echo of Hooves is an evocative collection of English and Scots ballads brought to life by Tabor's intelligent delivery. While it would seem that the world does not need yet another version of "Fair Margaret and Sweet William," "The Cruel Mother," and "Sir Patrick Spens," Tabor takes these chestnuts a step beyond what your average wispy-voiced folk singer might do. There is murder, blood, war, sibling rivalry, infanticide, adultery, and all other manner of human depravity in these old ballads, and Tabor does not flinch away from any of it.
She shuns the detached delivery of many ballad singers, instead giving the stories the gravity they deserve. Her deep, smoky voice is as strong as ever and her phrasing is impeccable. She throws in the occasional spoken (sometimes almost shouted) phrase for emphasis. Long-time collaborators Huw Warren on piano and Mark Emerson on violin contribute their usual fine work. Kathryn Tickell's drony pipes on "The Battle of Otterburn" provide the perfect counterpart to the angular melody line. She returns on "Hughie Graeme" to shore up Warren and Emerson's galloping accompaniment.

What really sets this release apart from other treatments of these ballads is that Tabor starts with the premise that these are great stories with colorful, fully drawn characters, not just strings of words to hang music on. She truly empathizes with the widow in "The Border Widow's Lament." She is believably horrified by the cruel mother's crime. She conveys Hughie Graeme's triumph in the face of execution with a cocky toss of the head.

While this is all very grim stuff, the richly variegated presentation keeps it from sinking into the abyss. Tabor and her musicians have the sophistication and clarity to shine new light on these wonderful old stories. - Peggy Latkovich

CD available at cdRoots

Audio: "Hughie Graeme" trad/arr Tabor - ©2003 Topic Records, UK. Used by permission

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