Anna Tam is a Mediæval Bæbe – classically trained and with a clear voice that so many singers would give their eye teeth for. Add to this her talent with unusual instruments: nyckelharpa, hurdy gurdy, viola da gamba, and you have a combination that should produce musical magic. Anchoress is her debut solo album, a collection of traditional songs with two original compositions. Most of the tracks are completely solo although Geoffrey Irwin joins her on fiddle for the closing track and Roy Chilton plays banjo on another.
Most of the songs are familiar although the opener, ‘Jenny Nettles’, is one you don’t hear so often. Anna chooses her material well to suit her voice and style and, for the most part, keeps her accompaniments to a single instrument. The second track is a very short ‘Tarry Trousers’ backed by nyckelharpa – the opener was accompanied on hurdy-gurdy – with viola da gamba backing ‘Whittingham Fair’; a variant of the lovers’ tasks story. The same instrument is used on the longest track, Robert Tannahill’s ‘Braes Of Balquhidder’, probably the inspiration for ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ and the album’s best track.
The first time through I felt the album was rather one-paced: stately and elegant, certainly, and beautifully constructed but I began to wish for a bit of fizz. That comes with ‘Elsie Marley’, the record’s one mistake. It’s an earthy song and reckoned to be humorous but Anna’s treatment – and this is where the banjo appears – makes it sound like something from a comic opera. Fortunately, this mis-step is not repeated and ‘I Know My Love’ and ‘Blue Bleezin’ Blind Drunk’ prove that she can handle faster paced material perfectly well.
‘Fear A’ Bhata’ is a very well known Gaelic song and before that we have heard ‘Arranne Saveenagh’ which is half in Manx and half in English. Of the two instrumentals, ‘Fairy Boat Hornpipe’, is a cello solo which is interesting while ‘The Goblet’ is a fiddle and nyckelharpa duet. Although there is much to admire about Anchoress I’m afraid it didn’t really stir me.
Artist’s website: https://annatam.co.uk/
‘Whittingham Fair’ – official video: