June Tabor – Freedom and Rain

The folk boom of the sixties carried on into the seventies, but became a lot more commercial in the process.  The three big female folk stars in the UK were Sandy Denny, Maddy Prior and June Tabor.  Of the three I think most people would agree that the one with the best voice was June Tabor.  She also had a seriousness of purpose and a sort of honesty.  Whereas Sandy Denny worked with Fairport Convention and  Maddy Prior fronted Steel Eye Span, June Tabor always seemed more concerned with expressing herself and never really went in for the compromises attendant on being part of a group.  Consequently she was the darling of the critics and didn’t sell that many records.

She did have a few light hearted moments in the seventies, such as when she collaborated with Maddy Prior on the Silly Sisters.  This was a commercial success and led to her getting a recording deal.  She released a series of very worthy albums which were greatly admired.  Many of the tracks had a pure folk treatment, often being simply June singing unaccompanied. She also did more modern arrangements, but even when doing more mainstream stuff she often had quite a strong element of social commentary.

But while she had artistic success, commercial success eluded her.  In fact it didn’t so much elude her as get a restraining order keeping her well out of its sight.  What would have happened if she had followed the path of her silly sister Maddy Prior and released songs with catchy tunes and more conventional poppy arrangement?

Well in 1990 we found out.  She released an album with the rock oriented folk group the Oyster Band.  Freedom and Rain is quite simply a pop LP.  You get June Tabor’s voice singing some good tunes with a cheerful upbeat backing.  The subject matter of the songs is still a bit gruesome at times, so you still have a twist of the classic Tabor in there.  But it is basically Steel Eye Span. Folk songs reborn as pop songs.  In fact in some ways it is even more commercial. There is a Velvet Underground song on it.  The Steel Eye lot never went that far.

So basically it is a great album.  I love all the authentic stuff in the June Tabor back catalogue.  Songs like The Band Played Waltzing Matilda and Strange Affair bring me to tears.  And the vocal gymnastics she can bring to a song like the Auld Beggar Man (on Apples if you are interested) are really impressive.  But Freedom and Rain is the album I listen to most often.

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