I first wrote this post back in 2011. It had been a year of some spectacular music with Eliza's album 'Neptune' being played in my house over and over vying for airspace with the likes of Kate Bush, Adele and P.J. Harvey. I was never particularly happy with what I posted. I felt it was all too short, all surface and no depth. The woman I wrote about deserved more. Here then is my amended version which gives a far fuller appreciation of someone who I believe promises so much more than so far delivered even though what has been delivered pushes the boundaries in ways unthought of.
Some may find having talented parents a hindrance. Outsiders might claim offspring ride the backs of their famous mothers and fathers. Eliza Carthy does neither. Her talent is individual enough to punch its own weight whilst her love for her Mum and Dad, Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy, is made crystal clear to all who read her sleeve notes.
For those who don't know of either Norma or Martin they are what amounts to Folk Royalty. They are members of that iconic sixties folk movement that revitalised both that tradition but also peoples interest in it. Much thanks has been given, and rightly so, to the husband and wife for their enormous contribution to Folk music.
There is a distinctive earthy feel to all of Eliza’s music: it is very much music with soul, soiled but spirited giving it the ability to grow from the wellspring it has flowered from. More recently she has started to experiment most notably on ‘Dreams of Breathing Underwater’ and ‘Neptune.’ The later has that gritty realism associated with folk but combined with a Germanic cabaret fee that is quote intoxicating.
Eliza is a Yorkshire lass, born in Scarborough in 1975. By 1988, at the tender age of thirteen, she was singing and performing with her mother, Norma, her aunt Lal Waterson and her cousin Maria Knight. Her first album was 1993’s ‘Eliza Carthy & Nancy Kerr’ her latest album is the critically acclaimed ‘Neptune’ that was released earlier this year. It is by anyone’s standards a splendid album coming as it does in a year littered with splendid albums it stands proud among them.
Like most anyone born of working class beliefs Eliza is a hardworking individual. If not making albums, writing her own material, bringing up her daughter Florence Daisy and doing the shopping no doubt, she is touring, performing or dueting on other artists albums. She seems to juggle a hectic lifestyle whilst remaining true to herself, her family and her roots.
But it isn't her career as a folk singer that I want to feature. Yes, it is a vital part of what she is, what she does but it is those three albums, stretched out over several years between other projects, that really excite me. The albums in question are 'Angels and Cigarettes' and the already mentioned 'Dreams of Breathing Under Water' and 'Neptune.' Three albums that have taken traditional music far and away from its roots whilst remaining true to its earthy pulse.
With the first of her self written songs featured on Angels and Cigarettes Eliza employed a range of musical styles to best enhance the arrangements. 'Whispers of Summer' has a skippy, folk feel not dissimilar to something that Kirsty McColl might have done - it has a pop sensibility that I find appealing . "Train Song" features a choral work over some delicious violin from Eliza with a Latin rhythm that carries the whole thing along. "Beautiful Girl" is driven by some furious played bongos with a synth warping in and around the tune. "Whole" introduces a funky, paired back beat with some steel guitar floating in and out like a bird hovering over a picnic. The voice is the only thing that connects the listener to folk for it is rich as peat. "Poor Little Me" is trip hop. Portishead would be proud. Finally there is the cover of Paul Weller's brilliant "Wildwood" which again has a trip hop feel.
This album, the start of her own self composed work on one single output, connected many disparate styles. Taking folk as its base the album extended a generous hand of welcome to all other forms of music. This enables a broader pallet from which Eliza works. The compositions collect a myriad of sounds all of which are beautifully drawn together then delightfully executed.
With Dreams of Breathing Underwater further progression is made notably with first track 'Follow the Dollar" which has a loose bluesy feel with some scratchy guitar, brillo padded and raw pushing the song into a ramshackle drive. "Rows of Angels" is Parisian chic virtue of an accordion beneath which a solid drum kicks the song along while Eliza takes her voice on aural exercises. Again this is pushing boundaries, exploring new ways to arrange songs. Trumpets blare as Mexican rhythms throb before a Welsh male voice speaks. The beat slows - intricate - sparing instrumentation tickles the thing then the trumpets return with Eliza's distinctive vocals. It takes a brave artist to take the back seat on their own song. "Like I Care" could be Cajun Reggae meets Folk. "Lavenders" shows us where folk can go, how progressive it can be in the right hands - think Lau. "Simple Minds" emphasises that point, underlines it, shows us where the future could be for folk, for music in general. It is acoustic. It is electric. It is progressive in every sense.
2011 has seen a great many excellent albums by the likes of Radiohead, P.J. Harvey, Paul Simon, Little Dragon, Kate Bush and the amazing Civil Wars but Eliza is among that vaunted crew. If you thought folk music was all beards, bellies and badly knitted woolies then think again and as you do listen to ‘Neptune, ‘ it is a fine body of work. It consolidates all that Eliza has thus far achieved. It challenges not just the performers but also the audience. Here we find German cabaret slapping out Beer Keller tunes, rowdy and robust in Jacques Brell fashion. Bluebeat and Ska muscle in next to Bossa Nova beats Surely folk music should stay firmly in the past, a thing of sea shanties and reels and yes, it should remember its past but here, with Eliza Carthy we see new paths run down old ones with both respecting and complimenting the other. It isn't wallpaper music nor is it some antique piece of furniture, a cabinet perhaps bequeathed by some ancient rustic aunt. It is of the now. It is current, exploratory and vital. It is all rather exhilarating. I wait eagerly for more.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.