ELIZA CARTHY & BEN SEAL – Through That Sound (My Secret Was Made Known) (Hem Hem HHR202001)

Through That SoundA collaboration with the Fife-based composer, musician, songwriter and producer, and who would have been part of the Restitute tour before the cancellations, Through That Sound  is either her eleventh solo album or her sixth as a duo partnership, whichever perspective you choose. Either way, a collection of new (albeit some long gestating) songs, despite excursions into free jazz, it’s a particularly accessible collection, opening in fine fettle with the offbeat waltzing ‘Ships Passing’ with some dissonant percussion and sudden brief uptempo passage with a flurry of strings giving a slight art-folk cabaret air to a number about brief encounters festooned with nautical imagery.

Carthy began writing the gently swaying, soft and slightly jazzy ‘The Black Queen’ following the death of Lal Waterson, finally completing it with Seal, a gorgeous and poignant song of loss but also celebration sung in a soft, hushed tone to a muted piano, woodwind and strings backing, the middle eight a tribute to her aunt.

Given an electro handclap walking beat and some nervy techno effects, she refers to ‘Our Savage Friends’ as ‘The Domestic Abuse Disco’, again conjuring Weill cabaret influences and featuring a backdrop of woodwind, keys and strings swirling around the propulsive rhythm, suddenly deflating in the final minute for a more naked vocal as she sings “suit of tears is all she wore, till the mother was no more, nothing left to hang it on, she was mum, the hidden one, the happy wife inside had gone”.

Lyrically poetic, a drinking song of sorts, ‘The Lute Girl’ is the first of two parts from a projected The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights trilogy, opening in minstrel style with a keyboard emulating the lute before the tempo picks up for a kind of intoxicated mazurka feel with what sounds like either tinkling vibes or xylophone.

The second part, arriving later, is ‘S.Musa, Pt 1 (the Death of the King)’, a similar, if more fragmented and free-jazz informed, musical backdrop with a lengthy instrumental passage showcasing Pete Furniss on bass clarinet on what she describes as “a lament for excess and death as the result of excess. The anointed … brought down by his own vanity and lust for power. His city of gold will also suffer the same fate, his subjects immortalised in gold and onyx so fine it seems as if they alive, but they are dead forever.” Right, that’s that one sorted then.

Released in 2011, the full official title of Neptune was Neptune (In The Stars Wants His Bloody Pound Of Fish), although the title song never featured. Well, written in collaboration with David Donnelly from Salsa Celtica during the seven-year recordings for Dreams Of Breathing Underwater, it’s here now, a slow-paced, piano, clarinet and double bass-led coloured song about the vulnerability and illusions of puberty, given a fresh jazz cellar coat by Seal.

An oldie, ‘Mean To Me’ dates back to 1929, written by Fred Ahlert and Roy Turk and first recorded by Ben Bernie and His Hotel Roosevelt Orchestra and subsequently covered by, among others Sarah Vaughan, Teddy Wilson, The Andrews Sisters, Doris Day, Julie London, Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland. There’s a personal resonance for Carthy in that she and her aunt used to sing it together, here accompanied by clarinet. duetting with Seal with a fingerclick percussion that sounds like the crackle of an old 78.

Again couched in a late night spare jazzy blues mood with shifting time signatures, ‘Surrender’ reflects on the life of a single parent with its demands and sacrifices but also rewards, the track ending in a restrained cacophony. Furniss again in the spotlight and another improvised jazz feel with an itchy rhythmic lurch and semi-spoken vocals, ‘Hey Joe’ doffs the cap to “another fallen storyteller” (and lyrically nods to the Billy Roberts song immortalised by Hendrix, substituting bass for gun), the album ending with the fine minutes, eight seconds of ‘Until Then (The Goodnight Song)’, a swelling piano ballad that harks back to 40s ballrooms and jazz clubs and sees Carthy in soaring Jo Stafford mode. If you want some sound advice, this is a secret well worth sharing.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.eliza-carthy.com

‘Friendship (Cabin Fever Remix) featuring Coronasaurus Rex: