by Ben Hogwood
What’s the story?
At the age of 87, one of Britain’s national musical treasures continues her 21st century renaissance. Folk music queen Shirley Collins lost the use of her voice to the condition of dysphonia for 37 years, haunted by the end of her marriage to Ashley Hutchings.
In the last eight years her recovery has been crowned by the release of two fine albums for the Domino label – Lodestar and Heart’s Ease – and renewed interest in her writing. She has literally rediscovered her voice – and Archangel Hill continues that convalescence as a love letter to her home county of Sussex.
What’s the music like?
This is folk music as it is meant to function – simple yet deeply moving, music that tells the story of a deep-rooted tradition. Collins is a reverent custodian of the music she has chosen here, and even the new compositions sound as if they have been around for a long time.
As a vocalist, she is in her best shape ever. Collins’ voice is like a beautifully aged tree, proud to show its age and revealing all the different layers of a life which, while difficult, can still be said to have been well-lived.
Along the way she pays tribute to her late sister Dolly, with a profound rendition of Fare Thee Well My Dearest Dear and Lost In A Wood. Her storytelling is peerless, able to shade the pictures exquisitely as she moves from the outward looking The Captain With The Whiskers to the relative darkness of Oakham Poachers.
Along the way she has sterling support from her regular troupe of musical collaborators, who have the chance to come into their own for the sparky instrumentals June Apple and Swaggering Boney. Offering a contrast to these are some moments of deeply strange and enchanting music, such as those found in High And Away, a new song telling the story of Collins’ meeting with Arkansas singer Almeda Riddle.
Does it all work?
It does. Collins sings with great instinct and subtle power, bringing her message across with great clarity. The cover picture, a painting of the local landmark Archangel Hill – otherwise known as Caburn – is the icing on the cake.
Is it recommended?
Yes, wholeheartedly. Shirley Collins is an artist we should treasure, one who holds the key to some incredibly important British musical traditions. The glint she still has in her eye would suggest that even now she has more to give.
You can listen to clips from Archangel Hill and explore purchase options on the Domino website