I’ve loved listening to Anne Briggs sing for over half my life. Whenever I think of her lilting, mesmerizing voice I go straight to this video of “Blackwaterside” with Bert Jansch. It’s utter perfection, just like that voice. So I admit, when I heard that bassist Devin Hoff made an album full of Anne Briggs songs with guest vocalists, I was intrigued yet skeptical. There are plenty of potential pitfalls when working with Briggs’ songs. Impressively, though, Voices From the Empty Moor is a triumph.
On the first look, Hoff joins with the inimitable Julia Holter to take the ghostly hypnotic “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme” into uncharted, glowing waters. Hoff’s reimagining of this solemn Briggs classic is timeless. He imbues the lilting bassline with a hushed sorrow, giving Holter the space to weave an ancient magic into her voice. When she sings, “Come, all you fair and tender girls; That flourish in your prime,” time stands still.
Across the creeping bass, Holter’s voice hangs weightless like a spectral siren calling her people home as primordial rhythms rise from the Earth and howling textures hover perilously in the background. The cryptic imagery of Rachel C. Blumberg’s ritualistic video visualizes the spirit running throughout “Let No Man Steal Your Time,” underscoring the divine sorcery laced in the bones of Briggs’ song. “Beware beware if you’re good and fair, let no man steal your thyme,” Holter warns as a lone bird soars across a desolate landscape.
Hoff, in describing the album, says, “It is not a tribute to a persona as much as an appreciation of music through music.” His affection for these songs echoes throughout Voices From the Empty Moor, respecting the beauty and mystery that enchants Briggs’ music while finding new, bewitching ways to present these songs.
Voices From the Empty Moor is out on October 1 via Kill Rock Stars. Pre-order the album HERE.
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