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ANNA TAM - Hatching Hares 

ANNA TAM - Hatching Hares 
Private Label TAM003 

Hard on the heels of her last release, Anchoress, comes yet another excellent collection by multi-instrumentalist and singer Anna Tam. The title derives from lines in the old nonsense song, When I Was a Little Boy. Here, Anna retitles the song When I Was a Little Girl and sings it to a fast dancing lilt that’s over all too soon.

The album showcases both Anna’s voice and her impressive instrumental ability. With respect to the latter, the Shetland reel, Sleep Soond Ida Mornin, is an athletic rendition leaping up and down the full range of her cello with power, yes, but also a detectable touch of humour. Of the two Swedish polskas - Polska Från Östra Ryd & Polska Ur Andreas Dahlgrens Notbok - Anna says in her comments that “the notes can get everywhere.” She certainly demonstrates remarkable agility getting round them on her nyckelharpa. Planxty Irwin is a duet featuring Geoffrey Irwin (who claims a distant kinship with the titular Irwin) on fiddle and Anna on hurdy-gurdy. It’s played at a stately pace before breaking out into brisk triplets that really move the piece along. On St Martin’s Waltz (Anna’s own composition and played by her on nyckelharpa) and Thanksgiving Waltz (also written and played by Anna on viola da gamba) her playing is precise and passionate, particularly notable on Thanksgiving Waltz where her double-stopped chords take full advantage of the viola’s warmth in its lower register.

The songs are taken from a wide range of the traditions of these isles and are all performed to the high standard we’ve come to expect from Ms. Tam. Vocal highlights include, for me as a Scot, the three Scottish songs on the album. The first of these is a Gaelic puirt a beul called 'S Iomadh Rud A Chunna' Mi or I Saw Many Things. I don’t know what a native speaker would make of it, but Anna’s rendition sounds pretty convincing to me, and is sung to the accompaniment of her hurdy-gurdy. Helen Of Kirkconnell also benefits from the characteristic drone of the hurdy-gurdy, and Geoffrey Irwin shadows the main melody on fiddle. Anna sings this tale of doomed lovers with great clarity and delicacy. Robert Burns’ Bess And Her Spinning Wheel sees Anna double-track her viola da gamba in both bowed and pizzicato parts. The latter gives the tune a dancing lilt which perfectly fits behind a very happy sounding vocal. Of the other songs, the opener Brigg Fair is an absolute delight. It’s a personal favourite of Anna’s and that feeling comes across.

Anchoress was an excellent album, Hatching Hares is even better. The material is varied and interesting, and there is a nice balance between Anna’s expert playing and her soaring voice. Very highly recommended.

Bob Leslie


This review appeared in Issue 145 of The Living Tradition magazine