Shirley Collins - The Power Of The True Love Knot (1967)
Shirley and Dolly Collins "The Power of the True Love Knot" Originally Released 1967 (Polydor) CD reissue, Wing and a Prayer / Fledg'ling Records 2000 (FLED3028) Also reissued on vinyl in the 1980s by Hannibal / Rykodisk
1 Bonnie Boy 3:45 2 Richie Story 4:18 3 Lovely Joan 2:30 4 Just as the Tide Was A'Flowing 1:39 5 The Unquiet Grave 3:26 6 Black-Eyed Susan 3:36 7 Seven Yellow Gipsies 1:48 8 Over the Hills and Far Away 2:28 9 Greenwood Laddie 1:45 10 Lady Margaret and Sweet William 5:10 11 The Maydens Came 1:59 12 Polly Vaughan 2:49 13 The Barley Straw 3:51 14 Barbara Allen 3:26
Shirley Collins' music is best heard in the small hours of the day, late evening or early morning, when most of the world is sleeping and your own thoughts aren't quite as loud. Equal parts austerity and warmth, her voice wraps around you like a old quilt on a cold day. And her music is the quilt-work of the British Isles, spun by the hands of laborers destined to anonymity as the "small" people of history but whose melodies and words have outlived most music bound to commercialism. Collins has passed that quilt on to successive generations of folk music lovers with her own indelible stitches. She may not have been the first person to commit these songs to tape but her records are held in high esteem as a reference point by both music nuts and music scholars. The further back you go with music that has fallen into the 'public domain', the more variations on the songs you have, and with Shirley's repertoire we are talking very old indeed. So old that those variations are often subjects of debate, and Shirley wrote some of her own melodies using anonymous pieces of song poetry.
I won't hold up pretenses - I came to Shirley Collins music by way of tracing the influences of my influences when I was thinking of myself as a songwriter. It's a practice I've kept up even though I'm no longer actively writing / composing -- I believe it's called "research" by those music conservatory types of people. For me it meant listening to certain records very deeply and often, paying close attention to writing credits and liner notes. THIS was my (informal) music education, and I would trace genealogies of musicians and writers to arrive at mutual fonts of inspiration. This was in the days before music blogs and the instant-gratification of internet sharing communities (before long after listening to music on wax cylinders, lest any readers think that I am absolutely ancient). The days when you had to literally hunt down music by haunting used record and CD shops, making real-life-flesh-and-blood friends with similar interests, or even visiting a public library or two. For music from my own home continent, North America, that's meant going back to some of the earliest material available thanks to dedicated and largely independent labels interested in divulging it. For English music, my interests started with Fairport Convention and sprouted like a weed to Pentangle, Steeleye Span, Davy Graham, and eventually landing at the foot of the Great Mother of them all, Shirley Collins. And there it more or less stops. I could dig deeper some day, I suppose. (Incidentally I discovered the records of Nick Drake and The Incredible String Band along the course of this musical sojourn, rather than the river flowing in the other direction -- I just had to put that in there to show "I was there before it was HIP!" thanks to the neo-freak-folk phonies or whatever they are calling themselves, if they still exist at all).
Although she has recorded with permutations of a number of people involved in the aforementioned ensembles (particularly her famous "Folk Roots, New Routes" with Graham), my favorite records of Shirley are those she made with her sister Dolly Collins accompanying her, and this is one of them, in spite of her being left off co-billing credit on the front album cover as she did on several others. While Dolly was the family pianist of the household, here she plays the spell-weaving miniature pipe-organ, a variation on a hand-pumped instrument whose timbre falls somewhere between a flute and a harmonium. Alongside Shirley`s multinstrumental prowess on dulcimer, guitar, and banjo, the organ brings the music a reedy, ancient quality encapsulated in that cliché standby of music-writing words, "timeless."
Historians have made quite a bit of noise (noisy in so much as anyone reads history at all) about the relatively recent provenance of our modern notions of romantic love. Shirley knows the intricacies of those arguments without having to have go the circuitous route of a PhD - by meticulously close attention to the truly "popular culture" of her own people. The selections of this record are all love songs, many of them so robust with stark tragedy as to make most radio-friendly `sad` love songs (even those ones you like) sound positively silly. Shirley provides paragraphs on each song on the record in the notes; there is nothing capricious here, everything was chosen with deliberation. I was about to write more of my own reflections on the tracks here when I looked again at the album and read again the liner notes written by Shirley herself for the original back cover of the LP, thankfully reproduced fully by reissue label Fledg'ling Records. Rather than give my own hackneyed plagiarism, I figured it would better serve Shirley's honor by reproducing her own words below. It is obvious that on top of her stunning musicianship she also possesses a penetrating mind and ability to contextualize her work in a very sophisticated way. So, I will leave the rest to her, other than pointing out that a few of my absolute favorites on this particular album are "The Unquiet Grave," "Lady Margaret and Sweet William" from where she took the album's title" and the incomparable "Polly Vaughn." The album also features Robin Williamson from the ISB on one tune, incidentally.
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