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ELIZA CARTHY & THE KINGS OF CALICUTT Topic TSCD489

I must confess that I am not sure whether Eliza Carthy is a member of The Kings of Calicutt or merely making a guest appearance with an existing band. However, I will try to look at the contributions of both the band and Ms Carthy collectively and separately where possible.

My first impressions of the CD were that there were parts that were excellent and others that did not quite work. After a number of listenings I find that on the whole it is a very enjoyable record full of life and flare, clever and effective arrangements with a pleasing diversity of sounds. Much of this has to be laid at the feet of The Kings of Calicutt though Eliza Carthy's contribution is no small thing. The record is a mixture of instrumentals and songs and I will look at the instrumentals first.

The tunes are in the main of English origin some traditional others of more recent composition. I find that the band have managed to maintain an "English" sound whilst instilling a modern approach. There is always the danger of extending modernism on traditional tunes that results in the losing of the identity and purpose of the tune, many of them are, after all, dance tunes. I am pleased to say that this does not happen here.

The individual playing of a very high quality. The rhythm section i.e. drums (Andi Wells) and bass (Barnaby Stradling) weave intricate patterns whilst keeping good time for the frontmen, they are never intrusive but make their presence known by being a vital part of the whole sound. The bass is sometimes used in a more prominent role, not always to best advantage of the particular piece but I will come to that later, however the actual playing of the bass cannot be faulted.

The front instruments are: melodeon (Saul Rose); hammered dulcimer (Maclaine Colston) and fiddle, mandolin and viola (Eliza Carthy) which is line up typical of many of the new bands that play concerts as well as dances. The front is carried mostly by the melodeon and fiddle which work very well together, at times it is difficult to distinguish where one starts and the other stops such is the empathy of the playing. The dulcimer is sometimes used to reinforce the rhythm underpinning the leads, at other times it has a more prominent role adding a light sound to the vocals or a quiet instrumental break in the middle of a tune. The melodeon and fiddle playing of an high quality that makes it difficult to point out one particular track against another, I would advise you buy the record and have a listen.

The songs leave me with mixed feelings I readily recognised that Eliza Carthy has a fine vocal talent. To be truthful this is the first record I have heard where she has a more active control, I have only previously heard her on the Waterson/Carthy records where she has held her own beside two established and experienced singers of the folk world.

Whirly Whorl is taken at a fast pace which is acceptable but not to the best advantage of the song, her voice is sometimes lost in the mix of the instruments. This problem arises again on Sheffield Park where the bass line dominates the song, I do not fault the instrument so much as the folly of allowing it to run a song which has a sensitive message. The song is also pitched too high so that Eliza struggles to hit the notes (she does not have the time to form the notes either) this results in a shrill and rather unattractive vocal sound. Contrasted to this there is an excellent use of unaccompanied vocal into a swirling instrumental on Napoleon's Retreat. The Bonny Fisher Boy is more of a mood piece and works well, she used the same technique to better effect on the track Maid Lamenting on the Waterson/Carthy Common Tongue CD. Her version of Lady Maisry under the title of Mother, Go Make My Bed is well executed although I seem to remember her singing this unaccompanied at a ballad session a few years ago, it was very effective.

Eliza Carthy is without doubt a talented young woman who has the potential to stand the English folk music scene on its head provided she takes an objective approach to the music, she needs to keep in mind what folk music and song in particular is about. No I am not being patronising just concerned. I find her vocals are already becoming stylised and it is always a sensible thing to continually review where you are and where you want to go, and in folk music to return to the roots (not to copy but to reassess).

Any how, enough of the lecture.

This is a very fine record that gets better with each listening. We "oldies" worry about the future of folk music but talent of this quality will ensure that it continues and hopefully will draw young people into the music.

Nick Caffrey

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This album was reviewed in Issue 23 of The Living Tradition magazine.