PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Heart's Ease
Shirley Collins

Domino

24 July 2020

Since Shirley Collins' return to music in 2016 with Lodestar, she's been exceptionally productive. After the release of a film and soundtrack, The Ballad of Shirley Collins, the prize-winning autobiography All in the Downs, it became obvious that Collins' musical contributions are indelibly revered. Collins departed from music for 38 years after suffering dysphonia, the loss of her singing voice, partially caused by a stinging divorce. Thankfully, Lodestar reacquainted Collins with the music industry and recast the spotlight onto an honored artist. Her recent album, Heart's Ease,enshrines her position as a legendary folksinger while affirming Collins' musical prowess. Without question, Heart's Ease is a contender for best folk album of 2020.

Several of Heart's Ease tracks have been a part of Collins' songbook for decades. She first heard "The Merry Golden Tree", for example, in Arkansas in 1959, while conducting field research with Alan Lomax. A bleak ballad about seafaring treachery, Collins renders its authenticity with a vocal and instrumental simplicity. On the same trip, she first recorded "Wondrous Love" at a Sacred Harp Convention. Heart's Ease's version is methodical; the slide guitar and mandolin emphasize Collins' vocals without overburdening the interplay. When Collins sings "through all eternity, I'll sing on", it is a defiant reflection of the artist and her 60-year career.

Heart's Ease delivers unequivocal descriptions of humanity. Collins keenly uses music to demonstrate a multitude of human emotions and rejects the portrayal of a singular standpoint. "Rolling in the Dew" is as saucy as it is sweet. Sex is central to the human experience, and Collins holds no reservations in representing the joy resulting from physicality. "Tell Me True" elicits a poignant emotional response, especially when Collins' voice breaks. Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to Collins; they are ownerless. Collins is the mere conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

On the album's press release, Collins says, "I thought 'somebody has got to sing these songs, so it might as well be me!" A true ethnomusicological lens, Collins' music envisions a historical narrative. Heart's Ease includes the standard "Barbara Allen". Collins marks a specific point and doesn't attempt to capture the song's influence over the centuries fully. She also includes songs from her native Sussex, including "The Christmas Song" and "Canadee-i-o". These songs are portraits of rural individuals and their lives. "Canadee-i-o" was sung by shepherds and widely made available by a field recording by Peter Kennedy in the 1960s. Collins' version enlivens an account frequently unscrutinized by historians.

A part of understanding the quotidian requires valuing the personal. Collins does so with "Sweet Greens and Blues", a profound exploration of the difficulties and joys derived from parenting. With lyrics written by Collins' first husband, Austin John Marshall, Nathan Salsburg (curator of the Alan Lomax Archive at the Association for Cultural Equity in the US) joins on guitar. The track is a frank and sincere depiction of Collins' and Mitchell's everyday life while safeguarding their place in social history.

Heart's Ease is also a reminder of music's centralized cultural role. "Orange in Bloom" is an audible illustration of dancing as it is built on the sound of shoes hitting the floor in time with bells jingling. The interconnection between music and dancing is reiterated in "Whitsun Dance". Marshall wrote the lyrics, then Collins recorded it with her sister Dolly for the 1969 album Anthems in Eden. The song illustrates Morris dance, a tradition traditionally performed by men. During World War I, women chose to carry-on the dance after so many men lost their lives in battle. The song is a testament to collective mourning and a memorial of sacrifice.

Collins revisits storytelling as a monumental facet of culture in "Locked in Ice". Written by Collins' late nephew Buz, the song is an extraordinary recounting of the SS Baychimo. A cargo shipped abandoned off the Alaskan coast in 1931, it supposedly reappears entombed in an icy sheet. Collins' interpretation is haunting, lending the ghost ship credibility. Deftly indisputable on Heart's Ease, Collins' music acts as a cultural time capsule to preserve legacies.

Heart's Ease rejects ahistorical readings of folk music and narratives. In this way, Collins also uses the album to concretely connect the past to modernity. The closer, "Crowlink", is named after the area on the South Downs overlooking the English Channel. It blends a hurdy-gurdy with electronica and field recordings of waves and sea birds. It is surprisingly experimental but without being at odds with the more traditional folk aesthetic. In fact, "Crowlink", as is Heart's Ease, are formidable signifiers of Collins' continuing contribution to folk music's evolution.

9

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.