Anne Briggs is simply unknowable to modern audiences. Gigs are a hopeless proposition, with this mercurial folk talent having long since given up the concert bug. Footage of her performances are thin on the ground, while interviews make hen’s teeth look like plentiful currency.
What we do have, however, is the music. Recording sporadically during the 60s, mystique clung to Anne Briggs’ every release, with the English artist generally shunning the studio in favour of live rooms, open floors, concert halls, and the back rooms of lesser-spotted boozers.
Until ‘The Time Has Come’, that is. The second LP released by Anne Briggs in 1971, it’s her solitary release on CBS and further broke with tradition – in every sense – by eschewing her devastating solo style for minimal accompaniment.
Minimal is certainly the word. ‘The Time Has Come’ is hushed towards the point of silence, with Anne Briggs’ delivery augmented only by bouzouki and the sort of guitar lines that could easily spin a fragile web and sit in dark corners.
Each song feels draped in silhouette, swathed in a kind of subdued monochrome. ‘Sandman’s Song’ is a wonderful opener, each word delivered with an emphatically warm sense of character, while ‘Fire And Wine’ has that hazy, end of evening feel – between those plucked guitar notes you can practically hear the brazier sizzling.
Much of the album is incredibly under-stated. ‘Ride, Ride’ aims towards an American railroad song, yet it’s desolation feels sublimely British, a solitary hymn recorded as the folk legend was beginning to lay down foundations for settled family life.
A sustained exercise in tone, the record’s second side builds nimbly on the first; ‘Clea Caught A Rabbit’ is all jollity and leaping notes, while ‘Tangled Man’ gently unfurls a ribbon of knots, those continually revolving finger-plucks never quite resolving themselves.
A figure whose own creativity is often intertwined with that of Bert Jansch, two of the real standout moments from this record a connected to the mercurial guitarist. ‘Wishing Well’ is a Jansch co-write, but this Anne Briggs’ recording seems to have a painfully intense frailty that her sparring partner simply could not match.
The title track, meanwhile, was written by Anne Briggs but first recorded by Bert Jansch (and also The Pentangle, who featured... Bert Jansch). Never one to pursue anything as remotely mundane as a ‘career’, Anne Briggs was content to let the songs lie, waiting for the right time to claim them as her own.
A recording of stunning clarity, ‘The Time Has Come’ has all the mysticism of the Robert Johnson songbook: submerged in myth, it breaks the surface to breathe a fresh, immortal sort of oxygen.
Re-issued for the first time on vinyl, this Earth Recordings release continues the imprint’s sterling job of supporting the strange, mythical utterances that emerged from the fringes of the folk scene in decades past. A real jewel, ‘The Time Has Come’ underlines just how timeless the artistry of Anne Briggs has proved to be.
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