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Anna ShannonAnna Shannon
Album: Rough Weather
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 12

I've sung the praises of Anna Shannon many a time, both in these pages and elsewhere, and any new release from her is an event to be welcomed and one to which I much look forward. This latest collection from Anna comes after a pair of exceptional albums (Horses, Beasts And Fairytales and A Celebration Of Old England) that I still consider to be among her finest creations (and thus very hard acts to follow!).

This latest collection, Rough Weather, returns Anna to the maritime theme of several of her earlier albums, with a new batch of keenly observed songs portraying and commenting on the plight of those for whom the sea is their livelihood in one way or other. However, I wouldn't for a moment wish to suggest that Rough Weather finds Anna "treading water" (except that it's a convenient play on words!); for it's a well-planned, simply and tellingly managed set that shows Anna's special compassion and her keen understanding of people's lives, expressed in writing of genuine sensitivity. I'm forever in admiration of Anna's seemingly limitless creativity, for here's yet another ten original songs that indicate her well is far from dry and that there's still plenty of subject-matter left to be further explored in song.

At the same time, Anna also always seems to be able to come up with fresh melodies that sound virtually traditional or else carry resonances of traditional models. Here on Rough Weather Anna voices the thoughts of the retired fisherman comparing the old days with new times (A Bargain With The Sea), tells of the hard life of the wife of a fishing man (Fishin' Men) or the exploits of wrecking crews (the sinister For A Keg Of Good Brandy), and affectionately reminisces on childhood days spent on Lindisfarne (Castles And Fishing Boats). There's a pair of whaling-themed songs (No More To See Nantucket is particularly gripping), and the lively forebitter-like Blood, Hellfire And Sea is based on the diary of merchant navy man Howard Piper. Fitting in beautifully with Anna's own songs, the CD also contains David Swann's masterly portrait of the fisherman's wife knitting her husband a gansey (Woven Through Herringbone), while She Waits (words by Mick Shaw given a heartfelt setting by Anna) examines with uncanny depth of insight the emotions of a fishing widow who refuses to accept the loss of her husband at sea.

Anna's own instrumental accompaniments prove every bit as inventive as ever, from simple yet skilful guitar or concertina lines through to fiddle, octave fiddle, whistle, chanter, shruti box and occasional keyboard touches. There's also two purely a cappella tracks: the rousing Friends' Anthem is a kind of hybrid of shanty and chorus song, while The Fine Herring is an animated piece concerning the decline of the herring trade, cast somewhat in the mould of a traditional fisherwomen's worksong. Finally, there's Outward Bound, which is a bit of a curiosity: a "rough and rather offensive song" (Anna's description, not mine!) done to a busy, fun step-clog-and-cajon rhythm that seems to cheekily reference Cyril Tawney's Chicken On A Raft. Anna certainly doesn't disappoint with this latest disc!

David Kidman