‘The compelling quality of Anna’s confident storytelling-in-song is apparent right from the outset’
A lovely review from David Kidman for Folk London in the June/July 2021 magazine!
Anna Tam – Anchoress – Tam Records TAM002
You’ll have come across the Mediaeval Baebes, an all-female early music ensemble with occasional folk leanings. Once upon a time in the ranks of the Baebes dwelt Anna Tam. Since leaving the group, Anna has further refined this marriage of complementary stylings – initially forming the duo Wilde Roses then morphing that into a trio.
Now comes her first true solo album (her nominal debut disc, With Love …, had featured piano accompaniment by Jonathan Musgrave). It finds Anna immersing herself in her favourite traditional folk songs, in the environment of her home – a canal boat which doubles as recording studio.
Like the Anchoress of the album title, Anna has been able to reach out through the window of her own “imprisonment” to share songs that have explored isolation in its different forms. A good number of the songs are well known but in every case she brings something fresh and affords considerable insight.
Anna’s a distinctive singer, blessed with a clear, bright, pure soprano voice. It is recognisably a trained voice, and Anna’s expressiveness is of the dramatic kind, unashamedly displaying technique. And yet, her extraordinary natural responsiveness to her chosen texts for the most part outweighs any perceived mannered or precious quality to her delivery.
Her vocal dexterity is here married to skilful, simple but effective and beautifully resonant self-accompaniment on a range of instruments: viola da gamba, nyckelharpa, cello and hurdy-gurdy. The blend is wonderful and often spine-tingling.
The compelling quality of Anna’s confident storytelling-in-song is apparent right from the outset on Jenny Nettles, a darkly tragic little song with mournful drone accompaniment.
There are so many high points, however: these include a ruefully reflective Whittingham Fair; a truly haunting Fear A’Bhata; the lovely Arrane Saveenagh; an understated yet effective exploration of The Unquiet Grave; a tender take on Braes Of Balquhidder; an exquisitely poised account of She Moved Through The Fair; and, in brilliant contrast, a menacing yet almost carnivalesque take on Blue Bleezin’ Blind Drunk and a delectably chirpy rendition of Elsie Marley with spirited guest banjo from Roy Chilton, Anna’s dad.
In addition to the 13 songs, Anna also treats us to two original tunes – the sprightly Fairy Boat Hornpipe and The Goblet with its pronounced Nordic inflections. Great fun!
Anchoress comes in a very attractive package, with exemplary detail in the booklet notes. It’s a thoroughly enticing, enchanting and stimulating album that affords a uniquely persuasive insight into traditional song.
David Kidman, Folk London