June Tabor - At the Wood's Heart
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cd cover June Tabor
At the Wood's Heart
Topic (www.topicrecords.co.uk)

For admirers of Tabor's albums An Echo of Hooves and A Quiet Eye, this should please. It offers prominent vocals over sparse instrumentation. Tabor sounds more at ease with conveying emotion; at times on recent records she veered melodramatically towards the malevolent in her bold efforts to avoid another mellow round of a Child ballad. "She's Like the Swallow" displays Tabor's penchant for integrating pop-jazz settings; her cover of Duke Ellington's "Do Nothing Until You Hear From Me," however, lacks such a setting, and blends in with the muted tone of the rest of this album. While her retreat from bland popular and jazz selections bodes well for fans of her folk standards, the album mopes rather than enchants. Consistency steadies At the Wood's Heart, but this coherence does, over the dozen selections lasting an hour, slow the album's total effect into creating an introspective mood rather than asserting songs that would stand out individually. Too few here do. Tabor's command is her vocal strength, but her steady control, relying on a contemplative rather than an active presence, blurs these particular voices drawn from a variety of songwriters and sources. These range from Anna McGarrigle's "Heart Like a Wheel" to Chaucer's "Now Welcome Summer." The closing "Lie Near Me" predictably marries sax and piano in a prim but dull arrangement. This style fails to project Tabor's interpretative powers. It recalls Joni Mitchell's forays into light jazz in which she sought to free herself from folk's limits. "The Broomfield Wager" picks up momentum, but it follows the understated opening "The Banks of Sweet Primroses." Such subdued elegance characterizes this album's ambiance. - John L. Murphy

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