Whenever I’m in the mood for listening to proper English folk, I often turn to Eliza Carthy. Her career has spanned twenty-one years, much of the early days spent touring with her parents Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy. Wayward Daughter, released in June by Topic Records, is an extensive compilation of her work and a brilliant exposition of her capabilities as both performer, musician, and interpreter of traditional English music. In spite of her folk royalty status, Carthy is not a traditionalist, so the album is a fascinating blend of medieval melodies combined with more modern instrumentalism.
For me, the most distinctive feature of Eliza Carthy’s music is that she plays the fiddle energetically, all the while belting out tales of woe in her strong, earthy voice. Wayward Daughter is clearly her unadulterated view of herself and her music, and a very accurate one it is at that. Punk undertones to these traditional tunes remind me of folk artists like The Bushbury’s or folk rockers The Levellers, while the accordion and fiddle sing together in flawless harmony. The first track on Wayward Daughter, “Worcester City”, is a dark ballad of poison and murder told in stark verse. The melancholic theme continues, uplifted here and there by the oddly fitting Spanish verse in “Grey Gallito” [accompanied by Salsa Celtica], ceilidh-style jigs in “Cobbler’s Hornpipe”, and everywhere Carthy’s enthusiastic, unwearying fiddle shimmering across the lyrics urging the stories forward. There are thirty-one epic tracks here, each one a treat.
This album is a perfect onslaught of beautiful music. I listened to it for the first time one evening while preparing food and barely noticed the time passing. As soon as I was immersed in the story of one song, it ended and the next one began even as I was still thinking about the last. I found myself sensing a strong connection to the history of the land around me, wondering how long the foundations of these stories have been told in verse form and where they actually originated. It’s like walking through the home where Shakespeare was born and feeling hundreds of years disappear, into the reality of a candlelit room with a trundle bed and an uneven floor and a newborn whose plays would live through the ages.
Wayward Daughter is this year’s Anglicana: memorably English yet also very 2013.
Buy Wayward Daughter