Wim Mertens has been a fount of creativity for many decades. Sometimes that creativity produces ethereal results, sometimes they are bland, and unfortunately, sometimes the results are unlistenable. Of the many Mertens CDs I have, this is my second favorite (after Jardin Clos). His bubbly, cyclical, effervescent style works beautifully on almost every selection here. This lively and living music twists, turns, churns, and percolates into an intoxicating (how many mixed metaphors in THAT description?) blend that always puts a smile on my face.
Listening to this, it's easy to believe that June Tabor was made to sing these old border ballads, tales of the uneasy coexistence of families in the marches between England and Scotland. Her dark voice is well-suited to the texts, which are often bloody and vengeful, and quite certainly epic – in some respects, the very essence of British balladry, whether it's "The Battle of Otterburn," with its gloriously textured Kathryn Tickell arrangement, or the demanding "The Duke of Athole's Nurse," where Martin Simpson is reunited with Tabor, his guitar offering shining counterpoint to her voice. The songs, tried and tested over the centuries, are wonderful in themselves, but Tabor's presentation of them brings them fully to life, like "The Cruel Mother." Harrowing at the best of times, it becomes pure torment in her hands. And her "Sir Patrick Spens" makes the old Fairport Convention version sound like a playground romp. Intensity has always been one of Tabor's fortes, and here she takes full advantage of the opportunity to indulge it.