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JUNE TABOR "Against the Streams" Cooking Vinyl COOK CD 071

A new Tabor album but, with her last few releases having been so dissimilar, it is hard to predict what it's going to be like. Well, as a starting point the musicians are essentially the same as on "Angel Tiger"; Huw Warren (keyboards and cello) and Mark Emmerson (viola, violin, piano accordion), supported by stalwarts Mark Lockheart (sax) and Dudley Phillips (double bass), and they are joined this time by Andy Cutting on diatonic accordion. "Against the Streams" has eleven tracks with a mix of traditional and contemporary, with songs from Richard Thompson, Peter Bond and Bill Caddick alongside those from Elvis Costello, Les Barker and Ian Telfer. Some "new" writers are also to be found and the album opens with Huw's vamping piano and Andy's diatonic accordion going into the surreal and Gothic images of "Shameless Love" by Eric Taylor - "just another song about love gone funny" - not an unusual Tabor theme! Alistair Hulett is a writer, singer and a Scot with a strong interest in Australia, and on "He Fades Away" tells of an Australian asbestos miner dying of mesothelioma. This is a powerful and moving song with June's impassioned singing underpinned by a deceptively simple piano accordion accompaniment from Mark Emmerson. The effect is awesome.

As for the "regulars", Thompson's "Pavanne", is filled with a taut brooding menace, and is a chiller in classic style; wordsmith Peter Bond's melancholy "Irish Girl" works well; and "Waiting for the Lark" is a perfect synthesis of words and music from Bill Caddick, a tender lullaby to relax into at the end of the album.

There are wonderfully graceful, soaring vocals on Elvis Costello's "I Want to Vanish", but I can only make any sense of the lyrics if they're put alongside "All This Useless Beauty" (Costello's song from "Angel Tiger"), when they both seem to refer to Princess Diana!

"Turn of the Road" is more straightforward, a sensitive, tentative love song in hymnal form from Les Barker, the man who is a legend in his own woolly jumper, and who is also one helluva writing talent! More talent is to be found on Ian Telfer's "Windy City", with June's voice, Huw's distinctly jazz oriented keyboard, and absolutely stunning sax from Mark Lockheart, superbly blended by producer John Ravenhall.

The traditional "False, False" is sung superbly by Ms. Tabor accompanied by coolly sympathetic piano, which contrasts with the heavy brooding bass keyboards of the declamatory-style "Beauty and the Beast": An Anniversary", which is a marked diversion from her usual style, and needs a few listenings to really appreciate it.

No Tabor recording is for filing under "Easy Listening", but it's not all doom and gloom on "Against the Streams"; there's light relief with "Apples and Potatoes", two funny, and cheerful (yes, cheerful) traveller's songs, echoing the style of "The Devil and Bailiff McGlynn", split by a sprightly tune from Andy and Mark, and also featuring mouth-music from herself.

This album demonstrates yet again this lady's astounding voice, prodigious talent and unerring instinct for quality material. She defies labelling, she classes herself as "a singer of songs that tell stories", and the singing is, as always, simply incomparable. The sparseness, the subtlety, the sophistication, that we have come to expect is all still there, and although continuing to challenge the listener's preconceptions, it makes to be more accessible than some of her previous material and gives an overall impression that is almost up-beat.

As "Angel Tiger" was a logical progression from "Aqaba" then so is "Against the Streams" a logical development, and the culmination of the diverse influences seen in her work over recent years. I know it's a cliche but there really is something here for everyone. Dedicate the time to listen - "Against the Streams" is worth it.

Mel Howley

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This album was reviewed in Issue 8 of The Living Tradition magazine.