Eighty one was quite an age for a comeback, but with 2016’s Lodestar – tentatively voiced but with dazzling accompaniment – Shirley Collins reclaimed her place as a doyenne of English folk after an absence of 30-odd years. Heart’s Ease proves a more confident follow-up, with guitarist Ian Kearey again overseeing settings for songs such as Rolling in the Dew and Barbara Allen that Collins first recorded in her 20s.
Her tremulous soprano has lost an octave since, but her seasoned tones unerringly read the mood and narrative of material that ranges from the gentle Tell Me True to the stately Whitsun Dance and the exuberant Sweet Greens and Blues, a reprise of a song written by her first husband to celebrate their offspring, and here framed by a dazzling guitar that evokes Bert Jansch and Davey Graham.
There’s a front parlour Christmas hymn and a joyous morris dance instrumental, Orange in Bloom. Most startling is the closing Crowlink, a tribute to Collins’s beloved South Downs, where a hurdy-gurdy drone conjures a mighty sky against which birdsong chafes and Collins’s voice briefly chants. It sounds like a pagan epiphany, or an emanation of the spirit of Albion from a born-again May Queen. Long may she reign.