Albums Of The Week

Folk veterans shine

Stripped to their essence, the new songs of David Crosby and Shirley Collins show how folk is vital in today's music landscape

The nine-track Lighthouse is the latest album by David Crosby (above).
The nine-track Lighthouse is the latest album by David Crosby (above).PHOTO: HENRY DILTZ

With their new albums, two leading lights in the folk genre, American singer-songwriter David Crosby and British troubadour Shirley Collins, prove how vital folk is in today's contemporary music landscape.

Sans unnecessary bells and whistles, the songs are stripped to their essence, putting the focus back on the words and melodies, tuneful acoustic guitars and occasional fiddle.

There is a palpable sense of intimacy in both releases: 75-year-old Crosby's first since his comeback solo album 2014's Croz, and 81-year- old Collins' return after a 38-year break from releasing solo albums.

While the songcraft remains old- school, both productions are helmed by relatively young talents.

  • FOLK


    David Crosby

    GroundUP Music

    4/5 stars

In the nine-track Lighthouse, Crosby works with Michael League of Snarky Puppy fame, while Collins' performance is skilfully handled by Stephen Thrower and Ossian Brown from experimental duo Cyclobe.

  • FOLK


    Shirley Collins

    Domino Recording Company

    4/5 stars

In the absence of his long-time partners in Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young), Crosby zeroes in on the people and issues nearest and dearest to him.

So the opening track, Things We Do For Love, is a sweet, glowing ode to his wife of 40 years, Jan Dance. In his unmistakably clarion voice, Crosby croons about how a relationship that started out for "just fun" has been building up a little each day, and is now a lasting companionship.

The anti-war stance that has consumed him since the 1960s and birthed scores of protest songs is still strong. It is best exemplified in Somebody Other Than You, in which he chastises politicians for sending the children of other Americans to battle.

He finds kinship with Syrian refugees in Look In Their Eyes, a bluesy ballad painting a touching picture of an immigrant family risking all for a better life.

Collins, a legendary figure in British folk circles known for her murder ballads and esoteric subject matter in her works from the 1950s to the 1970s, has lost none of her dark charm.

Like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, age has taken its toll on her now roughened voice, a result of her not singing in the last three decades since her marriage broke down.

Still, there is a distinct conviction in the way she tackles the 10 songs in this album, a collection of traditional American, Cajun and English songs dating as far back as the 16th century.

In Death And The Lady, she expertly captures the sombre meeting between the Grim Reaper and a fair maiden, while Cruel Lincoln fills the listener with dread as she recounts the tale of a vengeful mason.

A swan only sings just before it dies, she reminds us in the album closer, The Silver Swan - yet her delivery is compelling enough to make anyone forget how gruesome the subject matter is.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2016, with the headline 'Folk veterans shine'. Subscribe