Great artists assert their influence in numerous ways. In the example of Shirley Collins, the recipe for lasting relevance derives from prodigious if astutely unembellished vocal talent and a keen insight into folk tradition. In terms of wedding the past to the future in the eternal present, Collins is extremely valuable, and for evidence one need look no further than Shirley Inspired, a whopping and wide-ranging tribute compilation assembled by Earth Recordings on three vinyl discs just in time for Record Store Day. Any heavy-duty folk nut should be pining to pony up, and as the proceeds go directly to the production of a film on Collins’ life, the collection’s benefits are especially worthwhile.
Born in 1935, Shirley Elizabeth Collins stands amongst the giants of 20th century folk, though listeners unversed in the British streams of the style may know of her only implicitly; in 1959, prior to commencing her recording career, she accompanied Alan Lomax on a particularly productive song-collecting tour of the US south, the indispensable folklorist back in the States after the quashing of the Red Scare Witch Hunts.
But Collins’ primary importance stems from her own music, and those having stiff-armed Brit-folk aside thinking it the milieu of pennywhistles, jig marathons, and gallivanting around maypoles should pay her stuff some mind; Sweet England, her ’59 debut for British Argo is cool, but things really take off with Folk Roots, New Routes, a ’64 collaboration with Brit guitarist Davey Graham for Decca, and continue through her next two solo efforts, ‘67’s The Sweet Primroses for Topic and ‘68’s masterful The Power of the True Love Knot for Polydor, both albums cut beside her older sister Dolly on pipe organ.
Even better were ‘69’s Anthems of Eden and ‘70’s Love, Death and the Lady, the siblings receiving equal billing as a part of EMI Harvest’s still astounding roundup of late-‘60’s/early-‘70s British sounds. Naturally there are more nuggets to be found in Collins’ body of work, but the material outlined above sets a solid course for the curious novice.