Derek Gifford of Folk Northwest
reviews A Celebration of Old England by Anna ShannonAnna will already be well known to many of you I'm sure, having been deemed 'Yorkshire Song Writer of the Year' in 2006 and subsequently having made many appearances at clubs and festivals around the north and elsewhere.
This CD is her first with Wild Goose although she has made ten other CDs in the last few years as well as writing a song book with twenty of her songs in it. Prolific or what?
Apart from the traditional song Gaudete all the other thirteen tracks on this album are self-penned. Anna opens the CD with Birthing the Plough which, although set in England, belies her Irish ancestry in its delivery and also her deep knowledge of horses. Similarly, Hereandgonagain, although it tells about the entertainers set during the time of Cromwell who needed to be off the blocks if the authorities showed, has an Irish feel to it in its delivery.
She then slows things down with the haunting The Sheep They Bide. This song shows clearly Anna's knack of creating a contemporary song that 'sounds' traditional. It also illustrates some of her multi-tasking musician's skills.
In fact, she plays all the instruments on the CD herself using multi-tracking including guitar, fiddle, oboe, soprano-sax, flute, recorders, chanter, shruti box (an instrument of Indian origin rather like a simple harmonium that provides a drone accompaniment), percussion and, how wonderful to hear it so appropriately on the Lady of Grace track, the bowed psaltery.
Not only does Anna play all the instruments on the CD but this self-contained lady also provides all the harmonies on Ways of the Hunting and the choruses in some songs. Her voice is powerful and melodic whether singing the lead or harmonising with herself (it's a shame she can't replicate this on her live gigs!) on the songs. There are a number of well written songs here and the ones that took my particular fancy were Old Bob and the Poacher and the poignant Polly Cooper which tells the tale of a poor servant girl whose employers would have been prosecuted in this day and age!
There are two 'tune only' tracks The Gilded Cage where Anna shows off her skills on the whistle which, and this is a personal thing and nothing to do with Anna's skilful playing, I found a little too piercing for my taste and Harbinger's March which involves a number of instruments again all skilfully played.
Thankfully, Anna has avoided the ploy of some singer/songwriters of only listing the song titles and has instead provided the background to her compositions with comprehensive sleeve notes. I'm sure in the future some of Anna's songs will be as well sung by others as are those of the late Keith Marsden and Graeme Miles.
This is a superb album where Doug Bailey at Wild Goose has accurately captured Anna's voice and produced yet another well mastered CD.