Eliza Carthy is English trad's angry young grrrl. With her bruise-tinted lipstick, ever- changing hair color, and pierced lower lip, Carthy performs a skulking music with a restless, angry edge. No glamour puss like Natalie MacMaster, nor content with safely demure renderings like Cherish the Ladies, Carthy is brooding and melancholy, willing to mate trad and triphop, fiddles and electronic programming, and so turn a ceili into a rave. Even her jigs and reels sound just this side of getting ready to tell you to bugger off. Her band's name, if it had one, would not request that you cherish anything, let alone ladies.
Coming from a long, illustrious line of folkies, Carthy's been making music since she was a kid, but came into her own with 1998's epic two-CD set, Red Rice, the first of her projects to mix trad and pop in a quite effective jumble. Since then, I've read somewhere that her subsequent releases would alternate between pop and trad. The year 2000 saw the release of her pop offering "Angels & Cigarettes," and now we have her "expression of Englishness," Anglicana.
It's generally a quiet, melancholy album, dwelling on ballads of bad love and unrequited love, cads and ne'er-do-wells, minor keys and lower registers and mid-tempos. Occasionally a tune is recast as a dirge-like rocker, as on Worcester City and Pretty Ploughboy. Sometimes it's just Carthy and one or two instruments and all the time in the world to sing her angry, sad blues.
But despite the rebel posturing she's a good girl at heart, and loves her dad (folk veteran Martin Carthy), and they play a fiddle/guitar duet on the album's one original tune, Dr MCMBE. Again, like the other cuts here, it's a sweet melody reinforced with a hard edge, and their rendering is lovely, sad but strong, a father and daughter engaged in a quietly heated discussion about life, the troubles of being father and daughter, why it might be okay after all.
It's on jigs and reels that she does anything like "rocks out," and with much passion. When she gets even more sprightly in a medley of jigs and dances, it's a draught of cold ale. The album ends with a rousing, almost ironic music hall rendition of Willow Tree." Her liner notes, similarly, reflect her audacity and playful spirit, as well as her encyclopedic knowledge of traditional music. I miss the juxtapositions of traditional tunes with contemporary pop from Red Rice. The solution, of course, is to put both Anglicana and Angels & Cigarettes in the CD player and set it for "shuffle." Your feet will do more than that.
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