Shirley Collins releases Heart's Ease, her second album for Domino. Heart’s Ease follows 2016’s Lodestar; which on its arrival, seemed like a musical miracle - an enthralling new LP from a woman who is widely acknowledged as England’s greatest female folk singer, but who had not recorded an album for 38 years. With Heart’s Ease, Shirley delivers a record even stronger than Lodestar having completely regained her confidence, and singing so well that you can’t believe she was away for so long.
Recorded at Metway in Brighton, Heart’s Ease is as compelling and original as Shirley’s great albums from the Sixties and Seventies. There are traditional songs, of course, from England and the USA, but there are also more new songs than in the past (four non-traditional tracks) and there’s even a burst of experimentation that hints at possible new directions to come. Wondrous Love comes from an 18th Century English ballad about the infamous sea captain William Kidd, who was hanged for piracy in 1701. Collins first heard the hymn at a Sacred Harp Convention in Alabama (Collins and Alan Lomax recorded it on their field recording trip in 1959).
Collins’ intriguing choice of songs on Heart’s Ease includes two with lyrics by her first husband Austin John Marshall, a graphic artist and poet who produced several of her albums and had the inspired idea of getting Shirley to work with blues / jazz / world music guitarist Davy Graham on that extraordinary album Folk Roots, New Routes in 1964. There are more family memories with Locked In Ice, written by Dolly’s son the late Buz Collins and the most startling new piece is the finale, Crowlink, named after a pathway on the South Downs overlooking the English Channel “where I love to be,” in which Shirley sings against a moody, atmospheric fusion of Ossian Brown’s hurdy-gurdy, and electronica and field recordings of waves and sea birds from Matthew Shaw.
Heart’s Ease is a glorious reminder that Shirley Collins is still in a class of her own, both as a folk singer with a distinctive no-nonsense style that is all her own, and as an innovator.