Over the past four-plus decades, June Tabor has gradually transformed from a more or less typical (if unusually talented) product of the Great Folk Scare of the 1960s into something a bit more interesting: a folksinger with a repertoire that extends well beyond the traditional songbooks of the British Isles and into what can only be called art song. For many years now, her primary accompanists have been pianist Huw Warren and accordion player Andy Cutting, and her musical selections have gotten slower, darker, and more introspective. Ashore is a concept album of sorts, a program that centers on the idea of humankind's relationship to the ocean; a plurality of the songs are traditional (and include the familiar "I'll Go and Enlist for a Sailor") and the rest come from a startlingly wide variety of sources that includes Les Barker's opera The Stones of Callanish ("Across the Wide Ocean"), the writing of the great musical folklorist Cyril Tawney ("The Oggie Man," "The Grey Funnel Line"), and even the back catalog of Elvis Costello ("Shipbuilding," demurely credited to Declan MacManus).
Concept albums suit June Tabor. Giving herself a theme allows her to bring her influences and interests together. With her Rosa Mundi set a decade ago, she concentrated on roses, and now comes a concept set about the sea. It starts with the atmospheric and dramatic Finistere, first recorded in 1989 with the Oysterband – a collaboration that is hopefully about to be renewed – but then it becomes far bleaker.
Tabor’s a colossus, and this is one of her finest hours. Colin Irwin 2011 June Tabor has always resolutely pursued her own heart without recourse to the conformities of genre, expectations of audiences and especially not the pressures of orthodox commercial appeal. Her hard-headed attitude may not have won her great riches and she sometimes makes challenging demands on even her most devoted followers, but it gives her a unique aura.