Shirley Collins – “Lodestar” (2016)


Label: Domino Records

Review by Warren Mayocchi

Last heard in 1982, the singing voice of Shirley Collins is silent no more. “Lodestar” is a collection of traditional folk songs recorded with a variety of acoustic instruments including fiddle, guitar, simple percussion, and more. But dwell on the song selection for a moment, for it is an important part of this album. These are songs intended for adults to entertain each other in the times before radio, television, and so on. It was usual for various community members to gather, play whatever instruments were available, and enjoy each others company with song. A different time, but no less violent than now in terms of entertainment, consider: “So he tied a napkin round her head / And he tied it so gently / And then throw’d her overboard / Along with her baby / Oh look you boys, oh look you there / See how she do quiver / And she floated till she drowned / On the banks of green willow”. The standout here though is the aged, slightly graveled voice of Shirley Collins. There is lively personality in the vocals on “Lodestar” which are an absolute joy. An easy comparison would be the latter recordings of Johnny Cash, though he took a fairly mainstream song selection process – on this album the folk music sounds as authentic as imagine you will ever hear. Most of the songs deliver an entertaining tale, and I expect they have all been selected with care. I wonder if “The Silver Swan” – a short dirge – may have been chosen for particularly relevant lyrics – “The silver swan, who, living had no note / when death approached, unlocked her silent throat”. Though the lyrics on “Lodestar” may perhaps be morbid at times, the delivery is in a jaunty folk storytelling style. There is plenty of life in this album and while listening to the album you could imagine being part of the family troupe. Sitting together with instruments after eating the evening meal, enjoying the usual favourites (with corny dad-lyric adornments) and perhaps a new song from a visiting relative. I am not at all familiar with Shirley Collins‘ earlier work (other than a quick check now to compare voice quality), so it is without any authority I suspect this is one of her best. This is an authentic sounding gift of folk music which, though it may not appeal to everyone on an everyday basis, is a delightful listening experience. So, here’s to Shirley, may death leave this silver swan alone for a long time to come.

Rating – 93/100



  1. Awake Awake / The Split Ash Tree / May Carol / Southover
  2. The Banks of Green Willow
  3. Cruel Lincoln
  4. Washed Ashore
  5. Death And The Lady
  6. Pretty Polly
  7. Old Johnny Buckle
  8. Sur Le Borde de L’Eau
  9. The Rich Irish Lady / Jeff Sturgeon
  10. The Silver Swan




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