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WATERSON:CARTHY "Fishes and Fine Yellow Sand" Topic TSCD542

This is the fifth album from England's first family of folk, and in a dozen tracks and 62 minutes they show their undiminished ability to impress and annoy.

What's impressive is that the musicianship is stronger than ever. Martin Carthy on guitar and borrowed banjo, Eliza Carthy on fiddle, and Tim van Eyken on melodeon show great flair and understanding, while Norma Waterson wields a mean triangle to add to the southern English feel to the sets of tunes, which include ones from Walter Bulwer and George Tills. Tim is better known for his playing, but his singing contribution is also hugely impressive: his mellow, resonant voice does full justice to very different songs in Napoleon's Death and Twenty One Years On Dartmoor. He is developing into one of our finest singers. I also had to be impressed by Eliza turning Captain Kidd, a plain confessional ballad, into a 9-minute epic of impassioned singing and magnificent fiddling.

What was chiefly annoying for me was a sequence of 4 songs which left me asking questions. Why bother with the murder ballad The Oxford Girl when the story and lyrics (nose-bleed and all) are so weak? Why does Eliza sing Newry Town slowly and dolefully? Adieu, Adieu on her Red Rice album was a better send off for that wild and wicked youth. Why does Martin sometimes sing so jerkily, as in Farewell Lovely Nancy, when his more fluid style - as in Green Broom - is so much easier on the ear? Why does Norma return to Black Muddy River, after singing it on her first solo album? Another annoyance is the claim in the notes that, with one exception, the songs are about bad people. It's a bid for thematic coherence which doesn't stand up.

But why should querulous reviewers expect perfection? Maybe the high expectations come with the first family tag which we casually stick on them. It's like enjoying a good drink and meal in an English country pub then grumping that it wasn't nectar and ambrosia. Less demanding fans will not be disappointed.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 57 of The Living Tradition magazine.