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JUNE TABOR "Aleyn" Topic Records TSCD490

June Tabor seems to attract the kind of uncritical devotion which isn't good for an artist. I have never been an uncritical fan of anyone and I approached this album with reservations. Not about her voice, of course. No one can question the fact that she is a superb singer, and her voice is given full range on these twelve tracks. One of them, "April Morning" has to be among the most beautiful and moving pieces of folk singing I have ever heard, and Maggie Holland's "A Proper Sort of Gardener" is not far behind. There are four other excellent traditional tracks but I don't like her dramatic treatment of the traditional song "Shallow Brown". Dramatic treatment works well on the Richard Thompson song "The Great Valerio" because it is a very dramatic song, but "Shallow Brown" has such good words and strong tune that it only needs to be sung. A sleeve note talks about 'transforming' this song. Surely no 'transformation' was needed.

June Tabor began her career as a traditional singer then 'moved on'. Of course no singer wants to stand still; of course June Tabor wants to widen her range, and, with a voice like hers she could sing almost anything and make it sound good, so is it just my prejudice that makes the traditional tracks and those written by people close to the tradition stand head and shoulders above the rest?

The title track is a Yiddish song "Di Nakht". It is possible to be deeply moved by a song even if you don't understand the words and no doubt this song has a deep meaning for June Tabor but it conveys nothing to me. Then there is the tuneless "Bentley and Craig". ( Yes, I know it was written by Ralph McTell. I am even old enough to remember this appalling miscarriage of justice. But that doesn't make it a good song).

So, I dislike three of the nine tracks. On the other hand I would take "April Morning" on to a desert island, and forget about Shakespeare and a luxury item. What am I looking for? Perfection?

Maybe that is the standard by which a singer of June Tabor's calibre should be judged.

Howard Baker

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This album was reviewed in Issue 23 of The Living Tradition magazine.