Shirley Collins, The Sweet Primroses

Steve Hochman

By Steve Hochman

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
The best of Shirley’s early ‘60s recordings with her late sister Dolly.

From song-collecting trips in the American south with John Lomax to seminal ’60s folk-boom collaborations with guitarist Davey Graham to folk-rock recordings guided by maverick Ashley Hutchings, Shirley Collins and her earthy voice have been a constant force in English folk music for nearly 50 years. But her essential work is her recordings with her late sister Dolly Collins. Shirley's charmingly wavery singing and Dolly's flute organ (a small pipe organ) blend as if one instrument on the best of the early ’60s recordings collected here, rural casualness meeting classical formality and ancient melodies made immediate. These versions of "Rambeleaway" and "The Blacksmith Courted Me" set standards for several generations of performers, her praises still being sung by Beth Orton and Devendra Banhart among many loyal devotees. But nothing tops the original.