Eliza Carthy & Norma Waterson: Gift

A new album Gift has just been released on the Topic label by Eliza Carthy and Norma Waterson. This is the first time that the mother and daughter have made an album as a duo, but anyone with an interest in English roots music will know they both have an awesome pedigree as members of England’s ‘first family of folk’. The two have made many albums as solo artists and as members of the family band Waterson: Carthy, and have appeared on countless other musical projects. In Norma’s case this stretches back to her days as an original member of The Watersons – the most influential vocal group of the 1960s UK folk revival. Meanwhile daughter Eliza has experimented with all kinds of contemporary sounds and genres and is also an accomplished songwriter.

On Gift there are no big musical experiments and they just stick to singing and playing the old songs with enormous sympathy, verve and style. The choice of songs, however, is a varied one. Alongside the expected English traditional material there is also a strong influence from the USA and the album opens with ‘Poor Wayfaring Stranger’ – also one of its highlights. ‘Psalm of Life’ is a poem by Longfellow set to music by Eliza Carthy who sings and plays fiddle and piano. It’s preceded by the playful ‘Ukulele Lady’ with its Hawaiian swing, and this in turn segues into an unexpected version of the old Amen Corner hit ‘(If Paradise is) Half as Nice’. The album ends with other members of the family joining in to spine-tingling effect on the rousing ‘Shallow Brown’. There are contributions from Norma’s husband Martin Carthy on guitar and a handful of other musicians including bassist Danny Thompson and melodeon player Saul Rose. Eliza and Norma alternate vocal duties throughout the album and sometimes they sing together.

When I first began to rediscover English traditional music several years ago, I was lucky enough to meet and interview Martin Carthy for a magazine feature before a concert in Osaka. More recently, on a trip back to London, I was able to see Eliza Carthy performing with her own band The Ratcatchers – and of course I passed on a copy of ‘The Power of Okinawa’ to her after the show (only the smaller 1st edition was available then, I’m afraid). I wait in vain to hear any evidence of a new Okinawan influence in her music, so maybe she hasn’t read it yet. I’m just glad that she accepted my own gift very graciously. The chances of any of these wonderful singers coming to Okinawa to perform are remote but the Gift album is a great reminder of just how good they are at keeping alive – and expanding – their own roots music.

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