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Eliza Carthy

  • The Kings Of Calicutt,
  • Red,
  • Rice,
  • Angels And Cigarettes,
  • Anglicana,
  • Rough Music,
  • The Imagined Village,
  • Dreams Of Breathing Underwater,
  • Neptune,

  • Album Reviews |

    Eliza Carthy

    The Kings Of Calicutt ( 1997 )
    Trip to Fowey-Cuckold Came Out of the Amery-Indian Queen / Whirly Whorl / Bonaparte's Retreat / Little Bear-Wobbly Cat-Upton Stick Dance / Mother Go Make My Bed-Flower of Swiss Cottage / Good Morning Mr. Walker / Holm Band Tune-Dave Roberts' Tune-Jemina's Jug / Sheffield Park-Polly Bishop's Slip Jig-Roger de Coverley / Fisher Boy / If You Will Not Have Me You May Let Me Go-The Pullet-The Storyteller

    English folk music has often struggled commercially and I blame The Beatles. Traditional English folk music has never made the breakthrough it looked like making, even when Fairport Convention were making amazing records together. At a certain point, I think everyone realized this was going to remain a minority thing. Topic Records in the UK have a rich history of keeping Folk Music alive, releasing a variety of excellent records through the years. Big noises have surrounded Eliza and not since the heyday of Fairport has traditional English folk sounded so alive and relevant. She plays a mean fiddle, she sings beautifully and in a voice infused with the ages, across generations. Well, it runs in the family. Her father Martin Carthy taught Bob Dylan a thing or two about English folk music and her mother is Norma Waterson of the family vocal group The Watersons.

    One of ten traditional songs here, the opening track has one modern bass groove. The bass playing is fantastic throughout actually, full credit to Barnaby Stradling who plays the bass parts. Eliza plays fantastically well and the other musicians support with empathy and no little accomplishment. Sure, you've got a fiddle, you've got an old English folk song but the playing is youthful, full of flair and imagination. 'Whirly' is the first vocal tune, the bass continues to sound inventive and Eliza really brings the lyric alive. 'Bonaparte's Retreat' begins with vocal harmonizing between Eliza and band member Saul Rose. It sounds beautiful. The fiddle comes in, perfect and alive - the bass and drums come in. When the vocals return everything moves upward and simply soars, this is truly fantastic stuff. 'Tractor' is a beautiful instrumental, 'Mother' is played with energy and the bass is again notable. 'The Kings Of Calicutt' has a sound overall that is utterly distinctive sound and this is vital stuff.

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    Readers Comments

    Lynne flystitch5@aol.com
    just playng this cd for the first time (yes, i know but I'm a new convert) Now this is the album for me - great fiddling, great rhythms and a great voice. Was disappointed by some of her later tracks. (but by no means all of them.)

    Red 9 ( 1998 )
    Accordian Song [Accidental Saturday Night Kitchen Mix] / 10,000 Miles / Billy Boy-The Widdow's Wedding / Time in the Son / Stumbling On / Stingo-The Stacking Reel / Greenwood Laddie-Mrs. Capron's Reel-Tune / Walk Away / Adieu Adieu / Russia (Call Waiting) / Red Rice

    Eliza starts writing songs. Eliza employs dance programming. Eliza integrates her folk fiddle playing right slap bang into the middle of songs both new and old, modern and traditional. Certain songs stretch out over five/six minutes in length but rarely overstay their welcome. There is a pop song here too in 'Walk Away', a performance with only a faint trace of Folk but it's done damn well. The same basic core of musicians that created 'Kings Of Calicutt' are all present and correct, most importantly Barnaby Stradling who works as a vital cog in this modern sounding Folk record. This daring and imaginative folk record that includes a little smattering of Techno.

    'Accordion Song' is an Eliza original light on words yet very full in terms of accomplished and imaginative playing.'10,000 Miles' is 'Trad. Arr', sounds like it was written yesterday. Her vocals here are pure and clear, a fine vocal performance that brings tears to my eyes - brilliant fiddle and joyous bass accompany Eliza’s vocals and 'Billy Boy' just sounds so incredibly modern. I've never heard Folk music played or performed quite like this.

    'Time In The Son' is the second original song here, just Eliza, a fiddle and an attractively haunting guitar part. Bass comes in after a couple of minutes, acoustic bass and beautifully recorded Piano parts. The lyrics also deserve a mention. Folk singers trying to write new songs often come across a problem of the language, which obviously has greatly changed since 1910, or whenever. Far too many uses of 'Thee' and archaic language construction often hampers certain writers attempts at coming up with new-ness. Eliza side-steps that, doesn't use archaic language yet somehow this stands as very much a folk song even though it's performed in a modern way. Confused? You shouldn't be, just be quietly impressed instead.

    'Greenwood Laddie' is definitely a high-point with gorgeous instrumentation throughout. 'Walk Away' a cover of a Ben Harper song for those that wanted to know brings something to the album a little easier to whistle along with and adds variety to an already impressively varied set. The closing three songs nclude dance elements that may initially sound strange yet 'Adieu Adieu' eases you in slowly, utilizing a Moog. 'Russia' opens with the sound Of Eliza's fiddle playing before the electronic sounds come in.

    'Red' is a greatly impressive album, especially the first half although the second isn't actually that bad either, come to think of it. Ah, what the hell, just track this down. When first released it formed a double-set with the traditional ‘Rice’ album and reignited my love of folk music. For me, this was nothing less than a pivotal album release, a classic, if you will.

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    Rice ( 1998 )
    Blow the Winds-The Game of Draughts / The Snow It Melts the Soonest / Picking up Sticks-The Old Mole-Felton Lonnin-Kingston Girls / Miller and the Lass / Herring Song / Mons Meg / Tuesday Morning / Haddock and Chips / The Americans Have Stolen My True Love Away / Zycanthos Jig-Tommy's Foot-Quebecois / The Sweetness of Mary-Holywell Hornpipe-Swedish / Benjamin Bowmaneer / Commodore Moore-The Black Dance-A Andy O

    ‘Rice’ is an album of traditional folk songs performed in traditional and time honoured fashions. Eliza does this kind of thing very well. Well, of course she does, she was born into the tradition, born into folk music. Born to be a star? Anyway, you know you are listening to a proper folk album when the word 'jig' occurs somewhere in the tracklisting but let’s take a look at what we have here. 'Blow The Winds' Eliza sings beautifully and with perfect feeling for the words she is singing. 'The Snow It Melts The Soonest' is heartbreakingly gorgeous and 'Picking Up Sticks' very much traditional folk yet still infused with a certain energy. 'Miller And The Lass' is ridiculously well performed and ridiculously grin inducing. If i'd be born at a different time, I may not have come across Eliza Carthy and that my friends would have been a real shame.

    Eliza is prodigiously talented as a fiddle-player and her vocals very english. ‘Rice’ is an album so full of these cheerful little folk songs that I occasionally wonder where she gets them all from. Well, ‘Rice’ is perhaps slightly over-long at fifty nine minutes, but only perhaps. Still, I wouldn’t want to miss 'The Americans Have Stolen My True Love Away', another old traditional song, as old as the hills seemingly. She sings this tune especially well and the same comments apply to the Piano led 'Benjamin Bowmaneer', actually. 'Rice' is beautiful as a whole then although sister set 'Red' wins out overall for innovation and impressive displays of variety. Best thing to do really is to get both, of course.

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    Angels And Cigarettes ( 2000 )
    Whispers Of Summer / Train Song / Beautiful Girl / Whole / Poor Little Me / The Company Of Men / Perfect / Wild Wood / Breathe / Fuse

    Eliza joins Warners in an attempt to take her innovative, modern folk sound to a wider audience. She also writes the entire album herself, in collaboration with a variety of her touring band members and associates. Now, all of this would be fine and dandy if the mixing wasn't absolutely terrible and if even a single song here featured her trademark fiddle playing. 'Time In The Son' from 'Red' revealed an intriguing writing talent waiting to blossom. For the most part this album reveals someone who can write pretty and attractive melodies as well as songs of more depth. That’s fine but the album just sonically doesn’t hold up well, which may not have been Eliza’s fault. No matter which hi-fi system i've played the album on, everything sounds slightly distorted.

    The worst offender for distortion by far is 'Perfect'. A really nice song, but the vocals are so distorted it's a wonder the album was even allowed to be issued in this form. It's deeply disappointing. 'Perfect' underneath the distorted vocals sounds like a hit single, it's a great little song but difficult listening because of the production and mixing. 'Breathe' has Barnaby Stradling on bass, the very same guy who so enriched the sound of her 'Red' & 'Kings Of Calicutt' albums. The distortion is still here, yet this is a good, strong performance - one of the few tracks here that wouldn't have sounded out of place on any of her previous albums.

    'Poor Little Me' and 'Whole' are songs containing interesting ideas that never fully take off although 'The Company Of Men' is astonishing. Startling lyrics, beautiful instrumentation and strings that really enhance the song. The closing 'Fuse' is Eliza and strings alone, one of the saddest sounding songs here, but no less beautiful for sounding sad, quite the opposite in fact. Warners also wanted Eliza to perform a contemporary cover song, something fashionable. Eliza chooses 'Wildwood' by Paul Weller, which must have dismayed her new PR people wanting to break Eliza in America. Or, did they really want to? This album received neglible promotion, in the UK for example, it sold less than the 'Red/Rice' double set and that was selling at £19.99 a throw.

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    Anglicana 8 ( 2002 )
    Worcester City / Just As The Tide Was Flowing / Limbo / Little Gypsy Girl / No Mans Jig + Hanoverian Dance + Three Jolly Sheepskins / Pretty Ploughboy / Bold Privateer / Dr Mcmbe / In London So Fair / Willow Tree

    One alarming thing about this new Eliza Carthy record. It's been out over a week at the time i'm writing this review yet only one of the major record stores seem to be stocking it at all. How will she sell any records, that way?? It's a shame, because.... Eliza is back! Boo to Warners! Hurrah to Liza! Yeah. Sorry, getting carried away, as usual. Also at the time of writing, Eliza Carthy will probably have completed recording the follow-up to this album. Prolific? Yes. That project is reputedly a full Eliza Carthy Band recording, new songs, hopefully more 'Red' than 'Angels And Cigarettes' but time will reveal that. This little album here is a return to the sound of 'Rice' for the most part. The concept was to record a traditional album of purely English folk songs and that she's done. The opening 'Worcester City' is definitely a statement that she's back after the pop styled 'Angels And Cigarettes' disapointed some of her long-time fans. Barnaby Stradling plays acoustic bass, Eliza plays great fiddle lines see-sawing all over the place and the vocal is cool enough.

    The lengthy 'Just As The Tide Was Flowing' was a song released on Topic Records 'Voice Of The People' series chronicling an entire history of English folk music with recordings dating right back to the early part of the 20th century. It's a beautiful song in any case and Eliza fills her version with very emotional vocal tones full of melancholy. Eliza plays an Octave Violin this time around and a melodeon provides the instrumentation. Sparse then, seven minutes long and utterly captivating from beginning to end. Thank you Eliza for this.

    I'm not altogether convinced by the sound quality here - the acoustics of the actual recordings are not quite upto the standards of 'Rice' or 'Red' in particular. It's likely not a great deal of time or money was spent on this album, it was initially sold only at gigs and judging by its lack of high-street presence has not been a high priority as such for either Eliza or Topic Records. Don't get me wrong, the performances themselves are generally gorgeous and beautiful, the songs all chosen well and songs that resonate. This may not be her finest work then but it is a welcome return to the fray.

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    Readers Comments

    chris heath dyceman@aol.com
    i just bought anglicana after hearing limbo on mark and lards afternoon programme on radio 1. I am so glad i did! I shall be buying the rest of her stuff as soon as poss. I am a convert! By the way, this is my first foray into folk music, my main love is dance music! house ,drum and bass etc....

    Rough Music 9 ( 2005 )
    Turpin Hero / King James Version / Cobblers Hornpipe / Gallant Hussar / Upside Down / Mohair / The Unfortunate Lass / Scan Testers Country Stepdance / Maid On The Shore / Mr McCusker & Mr McGoldricks English Choice / Tom Brown

    I must admit on the whole I have a preference for the more progressive music that Eliza has made. The album i'm waiting for would sound akin to 'Red' yet contain all new self-penned material alongside a couple of radical makeovers of old traditional tunes. 'Rough Music' isn't that album. In actual fact, it sits somewhere in the middle of 'Anglicana' and 'Red'. True, no experiements with dance and loops here and true, the song selection here is almost entirely traditional - yet there are elements of progression and innovative energy here on ‘Rough Music’. ‘Rough Music’ is an appropriate album title, by the way. Bunch of friends playing their hearts out organically and naturally. This is an album capturing very well a live feel, just like the musicians are in the corner of the room playing for you alone.

    Let's take the cover of Billy Bragg's 'King James Version' for proof. Mr Bragg writes songs that don't always make for good covers, Kirsty Macoll's version of 'A New England' being the obvious exception. This is just for the fact you tend to hear Mr Bragg's phrasing and his words. Well, Eliza’s mum did a great version of a Billy Bragg tune too and Eliza's performance of 'King James Version' just sinks into permanently after a few listens. It embeds itself into you and becomes the only performance of the song that exists in the world. You understand what I mean? 'Mr McCusker & Mr McGoldricks English Choice' is a quality, timeless instrumental performance from Eliza and friends, 'Cobblers Hornpipe' is rendered in such a way you can imagine the modern bass lines running through it. They aren't there but it's praise for Eliza, Ben and everyone involved that they produce such alive sounding performances.

    Eliza always had it. She's still got that 'it' and now her advancing experience is telling in terms of her vocal performances. So, you wanted a progressive folk album full of a modern vision and stupendously alive playing with innovative arrangements? Well, we have ‘Rough Music’ and it’s close enough for me to cherish it always. It's nearly there.

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    Readers Comments

    Zoe zoezedo@gmail.com
    This was the first Eliza album I listened to and is one of my faves. I especially think "Upside Down" and "Mr McCusker & Mr McGoldrick's English Choice" are great.

    stephen bright Bridgened, Wales
    Been too long coming to this album which is a shame but its never too late to listen to great music. Loved folk music from an early age via anne briggs,nick drake (and yes I would call his music folk), and the fairports et al. This album has such a traditional feel to it and as with most good folk albums you can sense the fun and passion the musicians are feeling. As as been noted you almost feel as if they are playing in the corner of your room. Great album and one that I will be playing for a long time!

    The Imagined Village 8 ( 2008 )
    'Ouses 'Ouses 'Ouses - Cooper, Johnny & Sheila Chandra / John Barleycorn - Carthy, Martin & Eliza/Paul Weller / Tam Lyn Retold - Zephaniah, Benjamin & Eliza Carthy/Transglobal Underground / Death And The Maiden Retold - Tunng / Cold Hailey Rainy Night - Carthy, Eliza & Chris Wood/Transglobal Underground/The Young Copper Family / Welcome Sailor - Chandra, Sheila & Chris Wood / Acres Of Ground - Carthy, Eliza / Pilsden Pen - Village Band / Hard Times Of Old England Retold - Bragg, Billy & Simon Emmerson/The Young Copper Family/Eliza Carthy / Kit Whites I And II - Gloworms / Slow On The Uptake - Tiger Moth

    Eliza Carthy appears on the majority of songs here, a collection of old english folk tunes re-imagined for the 21st century. Sounds like a dreadful idea? Absolutely not so. Take the opening joy of 'Ouses, Ouses, Ouses'. John Cooper does a spoken word, Shelia Chandra cooes alarmingly beautifully in the background. Acoustic guitar then mixes with dance-beats, samples and fiddle. It's very striking and original, to say the least. 'Tam Lyn Retold' tells you all you need to know about the album if you just want one song. A nine-minute, very 'retold' modern setting for this old folk tune made more famous in recent decades by Fairport Conventions storming version. Well, for 'The Imagined Village' we get Transglobal Underground, Eliza Carthy and a guy called Benjamin Zephaniah presenting the song to us. You won't recognize either the lyrics or the tune, yet somehow it does tie back in with the spirit that Fairport were pioneering, of the music not being old and dusty and forgotton, rather relevant for the modern day. So, reggae style vocals, solid and modern dance-beats which after a few minutes give way to Eliza Carthy and her vocals, always great to hear Eliza sing, especially in an electronic setting. Well, she has dabbled in dance music herself of course, many times. The dance beats suddenly step up a gear with deep and heavy bass sounds. Thrilling stuff, thrilling stuff.

    Transglobal Underground also reappear on 'Cold, Hailey, Rainy Night', along with Eliza, Chris Wood and The Young Copper Family. The Copper Family, now there's a name with folk music running all the way through it! Still with a modern feel, this one goes to India and comes back smiling with great vocals from all concerned. A final word for the purposes of this review from the ever lovely Eliza Carthy. 'Acres Of Ground' has a modern feel using real instrumentation, great bass lines over which she presents a vocal typically rooted in tradition, yet also perfectly sitting in the middle of a jazzy, world music setting. Good stuff and 'The Imagined Village' is further proof that Folk music still has a way to go yet and isn't dead in any form, shape or style.

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    Dreams Of Breathing Underwater ( 2008 )
    Follow the Dollar / Two Tears / Rows of Angels / Rosalie / Mr Magnifico / Like I Care (Wings) / Lavenders / Little Bigman / Simple Things / Hug You Like A Mountain / Oranges & Seasalt

    I described this album on Tracklisting as the follow-up to the much maligned 'Angels And Cigarettes' and that's what it is on paper, an album of Eliza originals, rather than her usual sparkling take on traditional music. Thankfully, it's far better than any of us had a right to expect. 'Dreams Of Breathing Underwater' sees Eliza find her feet as a songwriter, not that this slows down her eclectiscm. There are eleven songs here and very nearly eleven different styles of music. It's impressive then that the album still manages to retain cohesion. 'Power Of The Dollar' therefore is a rather misleading opener, containing as it does a bluesy guitar riff and no fiddle anywhere at all from our beloved Eliza. It works though, particularly on repeated listens - it's a fine, fine song. Just a quick listen to the strings on 'Rosalie' should be enough to convince everybody that 'Dreams Of Breathing Underwater' is indeed far superior to 'Angels And Cigarettes'. 'Lavenders' for instance is wholly spellbinding, mixing harmonium with violin/fiddle sounds and somehow magical lyrics. She's got a lot to live upto with her extended family past and present in terms of becoming a great song-writer but more songs like 'Lavenders', she may well end up being the best of the lot.

    'Oranges And Seasalt' places Eliza in a nineteen thirties cocktail party and is something of a jazz inspired joy. 'Oranges and Seasalt don't go together' sings Eliza rather charmingly as the bass line thuds and thrums and the strings do their period piece thing amazingly well. A bit of Mexican/Spanish? How about 'Mr Magnifico', which Eliza turns over to a male to do a spoken word thing. When Eliza enters on vocals, you've been a little disoriented. Not one of my favourite tracks on the album, but kind of taking forwards what Eliza did on 'The Imagined Village' album ( see elsewhere ). It's almost proof that she needs to constantly change, rather than repeat herself. Well, she can do those old songs all day long, but 'Dreams Of Underwater' hopefully will impact her beneficially more than even the excellent 'Rough Music' or 'Anglicana' in the long-run.

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    Neptune 9 ( 2011 )
    Blood on My Boots / War / Write a Letter / Tea at Five / Monkey / Revolution / Britain Is a Carpark / Romeo / Hansel (Breadcrumbs) / Thursday

    Eliza releases another self-penned album that seemingly owes very little to folk music, yet dig deeper and you'll notice she's writing about small, everyday events. She's still telling stories, only more contemporary ones. Sometimes she moves in slightly too small, domestic circles yet overall, we're all surely very pleased to have her back and enjoying her writing her own, original material? 'Blood On My Boots' is six minutes of some of the finest ever self-penned Eliza. The lyrics are constantly engaging, occasional backing vocals lovely and the tune is strong, occasionally angry and subsequently touching and big-band in equal turns. It's the sort of tune that if performed on 'Later' with Jools Holland would have the entire audience of guests and musicians listening in silence then simply applauding furiously at such a fantastic thing. Post baby, Eliza now has a deeper voice, much deeper and this occasionally sounds jarring if you are as familiar with her career as I am, yet it utterly suits 'Blood On My Boots', a song so good it threatens to render the entire career of Bellowhead redundant. She sounds a little like Alison Moyet on 'War', a song nodding towards reggae and ska and the melodies are so wonderful and happy. When did she get so good you might ask? Well, she's always been good of course, yet 'Neptune' is easily she strongest self-penned effort to date. It all bodes well for what she might achieve in the future. The Carthy's and the Waterson's do have an incredible pedigree and you wonder if Eliza could wind up the 'greatest' of all the family. Here's hoping. 'Write A Letter' has 'massed folk' backing vocals, is a wonderful ballad with serious themes and probably should be the 2nd song she performs when appearing on Later. Well, I can dream. She doesn't have much of a media profile these days it seems and releasing 'Neptune' on her own label, I can only hope it sells well enough to encourage her to carry on persuing this kind of eclectic and highly artistic musical direction. She's impossible now to pigeonhole, yet will possibly always be 'relegated' to the small and usually hard to locate 'folk' section in your local record emporium.

    'Neptune' takes half-a-dozen listens to sit easily with you, rather than two or three, so be warned of that. Yet, like all the best albums, once it does sit easily with you, this will become a treasure, important and loved record. The strings and lyrics and deep vocals of 'Tea At Five' become your life. Yes, four tracks in, every one an absolute winner. Again, it shouldn't at all surprise me, being a fan, but I never really did expect (rather hoped) that she would become so very good as this. 'Monkey' is happy Ska music, contrasting with the previous two slower tunes. Can someone tell me who plays guitar on 'Revolution' - it's wonderful that solo. Well, the whole song is, it would stop a roomful of people talking, they'd simply have to shut up and listen and admire. A touch of familial folk harmony vocals delightfully opens up 'Britain Is A Car Park'. Arguably the most instant song on the album, the music is furious and cop-seventies American TV style. The song returns a few times to the folk-harmony stuff and fusing the new and old Eliza breaks new ground in a way probably only she can. 'Romeo' arrives and we're eight tracks in and still awaiting an even slightly bad or average one. 'When will he love me again' she sings and it's like the first wonder of a young child watching 'The Wizzard Of Oz'. Only when 'Hansel' arrives can we say 'we've already heard this' and not be quite so stunned and in awe of Eliza Carthy's talent. The closing 'Thursday' opens with Piano and shuffling Jazz. 'The baby gave her a tickle', a reservation, lyrics about cooking and her new baby yet she performs this absolutely passionately, from the heart.

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    this page last updated 01/07/11

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