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9 May 2011

Shirley Collins - 'A Favourite Garland' (Gama/Import)

I think this is a greatest hits record or something, because it's really confusing to make sense of the liner notes and there's a bunch of different musicians on it. We get a few tracks of Shirley and Dolly, some with the Ethingham Steam Band, and some in a fairly rock setting. These tracks, honestly, slay. But this might be a reflection of my own enjoyment of Fairport Convention more than anything else. 'Staines Morris', which we heard on Anthems in Eden, is pretty kickass with Richard Thompson playing and singing on it, and electric guitar along with Ashley Hutchings. They also deliver 'Just As the Tide Was A Flowing', but an even larger and more rocking group drives 'Murder of Maria Marten', this time accompanied by Barry Dransfield on fiddle. It's total Unhalfbricking, and a true gem in it schizophrenia - aftera brief rock bit, it changes gear into a misty grey wall of fiddle and voice, before reprising itself. Epic. I'm sure this was blasphemous to some but it's almost the standout of A Favourite Garland. I say "almost", because the standout to me is the version of 'Lady Margaret and Sweet William' performed solo by Shirley with dulcimer-banjo. It's the most languid and comfortable I've ever heard the song, and I have heard it plenty. Her dulcimer-banjo playing returns on side two's 'Over the Hills and Far Away', though Dolly's calliope-organ takes over for half of it. It's a weird juxtaposition, but the merry-go-round feel is part of Dolly's charm. 'Plains of Waterloo' finds the same flute-organ in a far more cloudy setting - drifting over the horizon as the song stretches out into infinity, almost. It's another real gem, and I wish I had a better sense of where all of these different cuts come from. The last cut is a short solo banjo tune, 'Higher Germanie', which leaves things just oh-so-unresolved.

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