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ANNA TAM - Anchoress 

ANNA TAM - Anchoress 
Private Label TAM002 

Folk music and early music are not as close to one another as they ought to be, perhaps because most practitioners of the latter come from a conservatoire background and there is a differing approach towards both. Recent examples of one reaching out to the other are not hard to find and this is a current example. Anna Tam has a beautiful, trained voice but there is no doubting the emotional commitment that she brings to the folk songs here.

Anna is also a talented multi-instrumentalist and she backs her songs with hurdy-gurdy, nyckelharpa, cello and viola da gamba. There is quite a variety of approaches to accompaniments here; drones, single lines that harmonise; arpeggios; and much use of plucked pizzicato, proving very effective. The impression that the music is coming from a different direction brings a freshness to the songs, with no folk performer influence apparent. In fact, the only singers referenced that people might recognise are Belle and Sheila Stewart who were the source for that difficult song to sing, Blue Bleezin’ Blind Drunk, about domestic abuse. Someday someone will sing it with the anger it deserves.

The songs Anna has chosen range from the jaunty Elsie Marley and I Know My Love through to the slower more mournful Unquiet Grave and Braes Of Balquhidder, which is given a reflective treatment. Perhaps the outstanding track is the only song she sings in Gaelic, that classic song Fear A’ Bhata, but this is one of those albums where the voice and the singing linger in your head for a long while after listening.

The album ends with one of the two delightful instrumentals, a baroque-sounding tune written by Anna and played on fiddle (Geoffrey Irwin) and nyckelharpa.

Vic Smith


This review appeared in Issue 139 of The Living Tradition magazine