Brass Monkey / Eliza Carthy
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Brass Monkey
Going and Staying

Eliza Carthy
both Topic (

Two wonderful releases that feature members of the Carthy clan, both Going and Staying and Anglicana show a reverence for tradition that few performers can equal.

cd cover Brass Monkey's latest I can only describe as comforting. With Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick at the helm, lovers of English music can expect a quality recording. But what has always distinguished Brass Monkey from other folk acts is the superb brass section, which lends such terrific color to the songs. At times, Brass Monkey sound particularly adept at a British military sound, or like Percy Grainger with more stomp and 'rumpty-tumpty.' Certainly the first song, "Put the Road in Order," has an imposing march cadence. Brass Monkey also show their alliance with working people's plight on the Carthy-sung "Doffing Mistress."
"Doffing Mistress"
Going and Staying highlights how phenomenal an instrumental outfit Brass Monkey are; they positively shine on the set tunes here. Twice, the band plays with early music: the Holborne suite is derived from the 1500s, and some early country dance is represented as well with "Gathering Peascods." Brass Monkey also pay tribute to the Britannia coco-nut dancers, an indigenous folk group whose repertoire dates from the mid-Victorian era. The whole stirring experience is brought to a satisfactory close with Martin citing a Thomas Hardy poem - the "Going and Staying" of the title - which reflects on the meeting of the past with the modern world. The brass shimmers like a sunset; it is a lovely track.

"Little Gypsy Girl"
On Eliza Carthy's Anglicana, she has left the singer-songwriter role of her major label debut Angels & Cigarettes to return to traditional material. It is a blessing that Eliza continually records, as her growth as an all-around musician has been nothing less than astonishing. The moment "Worcester City" kicks in, the drama is present in Eliza's voice, and the military drumrolls that punctuate the song heighten the tension in this dark tale of jealousy and death by poison. Often, it is the female protagonist in folk songs who poison males; here, it is the spurned male lover who poisons his love, and to have Eliza spin the yarn so unsparingly makes for a great performance.

cd cover Eliza Carthy does not shy away from the grand ballads, either. Her eight minute version of "Just as the Tide Was Flowing" is delivered in a heartfelt, spare approach, as is the live recording of Eliza singing "In London So Fair" while accompanying herself on the piano. "In London" is one of the great parting songs, whereby a young woman disguises herself as a sailor to pursue her love that has taken to the sea. Naturally, the female sailor isn't immediately detected, and she gets to test the commitment of her man; marriage inevitably ensues.

Anglicana is a jewel of an album, and Eliza pays plenty of homage to her parents. "Bold Privateer" is such a minor-key song, it sounds as if Martin taught his daughter the tune, and indeed he gave her this song. The one non-traditional track on the record is an instrumental Eliza wrote in honor of her father. Elsewhere, the "Little Gypsy Girl" (which features some great concertina playing by Will Duke) reminds one of mother Norma's singing; and, in fact, Norma provides background vocals here. So while Anglicana features a host of young guns in Eliza's backing band (Ben Ivitsky, Tim Van Eyken, Barnaby Stradling), it is an album well anchored in its English roots. It takes some risks with the acoustic setting; there are minor electric flourishes (Tom Salter's electric guitar sounds like South African township jive on the "No Man's Jig" set), but nothing so radical that the tradition is turned on its head. Anglicana is yet more evidence of the major artist Eliza Carthy has become. - Lee Blackstone

"Doffing Mistress" and "Little Gypsy Girl" traditional, (c)(p)2002 Topic Records, UK, used by permission

Topic Records are available from cdRoots

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