Martin & Eliza Carthy: The Moral of the Elephant

Last year English folk singer Eliza Carthy celebrated 20 years as a professional musician with a double compilation album (reviewed elsewhere on this blog). Now she is back with a joint album with her even more illustrious father Martin Carthy who has been singing and recording roots music and more for around half a century.

This project is nothing new for England’s first family of folk as Eliza previously made a joint album with her mother Norma Waterson. This time she is alone with her father and there are no special guests. The eleven tracks are played and sung simply but expertly without the help of anyone else except for another member of the family, Oliver Knight, who has a credit as co-producer.

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The two share vocal duties while Eliza plays fiddle and Martin adds his inimitable guitar. While most of the songs are traditional, the two standout tracks are both cover versions sung by Eliza. The first of these is ‘Happiness’ a wistful song composed by Molly Drake (Nick Drake’s mother). The other is Michael Marra’s quietly moving ‘Monkey Hair’ which to these ears has echoes of Elvis Costello. The pair deliver another excellent performance on ‘Waking Dreams (Awake Awake)’ while the traditional song ‘Died for Love’ is dedicated to another family member the late Mike Waterson.

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The title comes from the album’s longest track ‘The Elephant’ which is based on a poem and its ‘moral’, explained in Martin and Eliza’s informative sleeve notes, is that we are all fighting the same battle and should “strive always for the big picture”. It isn’t an easy listen but the two Carthys are always challenging themselves and never looking for the soft option.

The album as a whole is a fine achievement with plenty of variety despite its relatively sparse delivery. Martin Carthy, now well into his seventies, shows no sign of diminishing powers and his vocals sound as strong as ever while Eliza is always pushing boundaries and is already well-established as a formidable flag-bearer for English roots music.

The Moral of the Elephant is released on Topic Records.

www.topicrecords.co.uk

 

 

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