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ELIZA CARTHY - "Red Rice" - Topic TSDCD2001

Why does Eliza Carthy thank sprouts and bees for helping with this album? Who are Billericay Fontenot and Thorngumbold Fontenot, and what did they put in her broth to give her such go?

No time to ponder, with 110 minutes for her best music to date bawling for attention. The venerable Topic and its young fiddler and singer have done each other proud with a bold, richly packaged double CD which should have wide appeal. Bold because each CD has its own name, cast, and style. Put crudely, "Red" is for clubbers and "Rice" for crusties. but we're mostly mixed up folk - crubbers, perhaps, or clusties - and there's plenty to enjoy on both.

"Red" is electric ladyland. Boys to play with include Barnaby Stradling (bass), Sam Thomas (drums), Martin Green (keyboards, accordion) and cousin Olly Knight (electric guitar). There's a souped-up encore for "10,000 Miles" after its appearance on "Heat, Light and Sound"; a haunting "Adieu, Adieu"; and dance tunes which fry nicely without quite spattering the fat. Eliza says that, except for "Billy Boy", the traditional material here "Is all English and out there. Not to exclude anyone or anything, but just because we can". But not all EFDSS members will want to sound their instruments of joy. Her two closing compositions are scary stuff for those who don't know their techno from their ambient (hands up!). And her two songs are, again, very personal and brave and light years from the narrative tradition. Cosy she ain't.

"Rice" is Eliza coming home - literally, as it was recorded at Robin Hood's Bay. A happy homecoming it is, with tune after gorgeous tune bursting from her collaboration with Saul Rose (melodeon) and Ed Boyd (acoustic guitar), who are both excellent. The brilliance often left me gaping. Jaw droppers include the beautifully arranged pipe tune "Mons Meg" and Eliza's compositions "The Game of Draughts" and "Haddock and Chips", which demonstrates perfectly her driven English-style bowing. Too many talented fiddlers don't write tunes or won't display them, and Eliza's confidence in doing so is deeply impressive. The songs are all traditional, mostly unfamiliar, often on the timeless theme of women giving blokes some stick. All are nicely sung to catch mood and meaning, though there's probably a deliberate retreat from the intensity of some of her previous work. Jolliest is "Herring Song", a piscine "Derby Ram", with Lucy Adams and the mysterious Fontenots joining in the singing.

"Red Rice", I suppose, is what you chuck at newly-weds. Stardust is what the folk gods chuck at Eliza. It's dangerous stuff, but she laughs, shakes it from her black/red/blonde hair, and goes on developing her skills and refreshing our tradition.

Eliza Fontenot, we need you!

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 27 of The Living Tradition magazine.