Bassist Devin Hoff’s loving tribute to Anne Briggs explores the depth and the versatility of the British folk legend’s classic songbook.
Most readers here would agree that Anne Briggs, along with Shirley Collins, is one of the foundational pillars of the English folk music revival of the 1960s and 1970s. She unquestionably inspired an entire wave of musicians, including everyone from the members of Pentangle and Fairport Convention to even Jimmy Page.
Hoff is a double bass virtuoso that has worked in the past with the likes of Yoko Ono and Xiu Xiu. He graces this album with both jazz-flavored lyrical bass lines and emotive bowed soundscapes. While some may view his instrument to be an unorthodox choice for paying homage to a folk singer who mainly sang unaccompanied or with a guitar or dulcimer, Hoff uses it quite effectively here. In fact, through layers of his own overdubs, he expands upon the earthy textures of Briggs’ classic melodies, and has in effect, uncovered the very essence of her music. In deep grumbling drones, intricate twangy bass lines and rich, elegant bows, Hoff vividly conjured the emotional and natural atmosphere of Briggs’ work while crafting his own sound.
With the assistance of saxophonist Howard Wiley, oud player Alejandro Farha and vocalists like Julia Holter and Sharon Van Etten, Hoff even makes the listener breathe the chilly air of the frigid moors and smell the salty surf of the lonesome seashores of songs like “The Lowlands” and “Living By the Water.” The tracks on this album aren’t so much cover songs, as they are sonic interpretations of Briggs’ entire world.
Many artists have covered Briggs’ music in the past and made each composition their own, but very few have adapted her material as if they’re actively living it at the same time. For instance, the elemental “Go Your Way” aches with subtly mournful bass grooves and Van Etten’s tender and ghostly vocals. These sounds, when combined with the deep sighs that emit from Hoff’s instrument when he bows its strings between verses, produce the painful ambience of heartbroken wanderings through quiet meadows and forests. This is perhaps the closest anyone has ever come to instrumentally portraying the raw emotions that this classic tune’s lyrics suggest (since the original recording, that is).
Any fan of Anne Briggs needs to hear this truly one of a kind tribute album. Click here to order your copy of Voices from The Empty Moor today on CD, vinyl or digital download from Kill Rock Stars today.