4 Men with Beards

Album Review

Few legends loom larger than Anne Briggs in the history of British folk; she was a dazzlingly gifted young prodigy who was discovered by Ewan MacColl in 1962 and sporadically performed and recorded until 1973, when she decided she didn't care for the sound of her voice on record and walked away from her career, presumably for good. Briggs had recorded a pair of EPs and contributed to some compilation albums in the 1960s but didn't recorded a full LP until 1971, when she cut her full-length debut for the well-respected British folk label Topic Records. Of Briggs' three albums, Anne Briggs is easily the purest and most austere; Briggs sings a cappella on six of the ten songs, and on the rest she's accompanied only by an acoustic guitar or bouzouki, and the production is clean and straightforward, as if a microphone was placed in the room with Briggs and the results were put to tape with no further filtering or manipulation. Briggs' voice is stunning in its clarity and her command of her instrument is complete on these ten selections, but what makes this album a lasting classic is Briggs' gift as an interpreter. There's precious little in the way of forced drama in these performances, but Briggs inhabits these songs the way a truly gifted actor can slip completely into a character, and with the simplest tools at her disposal she turns these age-old melodies (with two Briggs originals for seasoning) into stories that draw the listener in, holding them breathless through the full ten minutes of "Young Tambling." Briggs draws from the classic repertoire of British folk on this album (two of the same songs would later appear on Fairport Convention's ground-breaking Liege & Lief), but she was willing to embrace idiosyncratic versions of these songs (most notably "Young Tambling," better known as "Tam Lin," and "The Cuckoo") and her interpretations are singular in their beauty and eloquence. In the liner notes that accompany the 2008 reissue of this album, Ken Hunt points out that many of the stories that circulate about Briggs' wild, nomadic life are myth rather than reality. But one has only to listen to Anne Briggs to realize that the legends of her gifts as a singer are rooted firmly in fact, with these recordings as proof.
Mark Deming, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. Blackwater Side
  2. The Snow It Melts the Soonest
  3. Willie O Winsbury
  4. Go Your Way
  5. Thorneymoor Woods
  6. The Cuckoo
  7. Reynardine
  8. Young Tambling
  9. Living by the Water
  10. Maa Bonny Lad