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WATERSON:CARTHY "Broken Ground" Topic TSCD509

Time for some self-discipline and some preparation for your humble reviewer.

1) Place Dictionary of Superlatives well out of reach. 2) Take a dose of objectivity-inducing pills.

Waterson:Carthy is now officially a four-piece. The real English Royal Family has expanded itself with the formal addition of son-in-law Saul, although the depth of his melodeon playing filled out the last family CD (Common Tongue). As it happens, Saul and wife Lucy have just expanded the family literally, with a new daughter. Congrats to all.

So to the music ... what have we here? Oh, stuff all that objectivity nonsense. This is simply stunning. You can forget the school version of "Raggle Taggle Gypsies" - Liza's version is a different beast altogether - reaching the Carthys from Mike Yates via Walter Pardon (great sleeve notes as usual - full of detail and thought). These gypsies bounce along gently, propelled by the unique Carthy guitar, welded seamlessly to Saul's sympathetic box-playing. The voice could be none other - and neither could Norma's on the very next track "Bay of Biscay" - where this lot do what no-one does better. Norma's loving interpretation of the words dictates the phrasing, while the instruments follow. The rhythm is all over the place, the song isn't shoe-horned into a regular metre ... and it's just perfect. Next up's a jolly set of waltzes - rhythm back in place and all having a ball. I know the editor won't allow me a track-by-track, so I'll have to pick and choose from now on. Before that - can I suggest that you listen to the similarities and differences between Norma and Liza's singing? The relationship is unmissable and they blend instinctively when they sing together, but Liza's dark tones form a contrast with Norma's full-blooded, eyes-closed-and-swaying passion. Two of the great female voices of English song on one CD - again.

There's an out-of-season all-together-now "Ditching Carol", apparently much younger than it sounds (which is great, by the way) and a whole pile of hornpipes, reels and morris tunes, mostly of Liza's finding. It's nice to hear Brian McNeill's "Bleaton Gardens" creeping, nay leaping, into the middle of a set of hornpipes, and to hear the whole lot of them obviously having a ball. The whole CD sounds "live" - producer Oliver Knight (Waterson:Carthy nephew!) knows his family well and always manages to keep the life in the music that he records with love and care. In fact, the whole thing oozes love of the music and of each other. It'll make YOU feel better - believe me. The most fun is saved up for the end, where Martin and Saul kick off with a typically jaunty Morris tune from Bampton, thence into the cautionary tale of the dangers presented to men's bonces by "The Bald Headed End of the Broom". Not content with a chuckle-inducing treatment of a daft song, they march in the Phoenix New Orleans Parade Band to draw out the music-hall feel of the song (which is, apparently, actually older) and the CD dutifully marches jauntily off the player ... until you hit the "replay" button. Which you will - again and again. Thank goodness CDs don't wear out.

Alan Murray

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This album was reviewed in Issue 34 of The Living Tradition magazine.