ELIZA CARTHY – Restitute (Topic TSCD599)

RestituteHitherto only available direct from Carthy’s website, Restitute was originally recorded as a fund raiser for the Wayward Band after they lost funding for the Big Machine album project halfway through and, though eventually rescued by Topic, no one got paid, hence the prevalent theme of betrayal. Save for a couple of numbers, featuring predominantly traditional material it was recorded entirely solo in Carthy’s bedroom and marked her first such album in fourteen years.

Now made commercially available as part of the label’s 80th anniversary, Restitute opens with an arrangement of the traditional ‘Friendship’ featuring Carthy on chopsticks, violin, viola, octave violin and, er, wooden skeleton giving it an almost Japanese koto flavour. Joined by dad Martin on guitar accompanying her octave violin, the near seven-minute ‘The Leaves In The Woodland’ is a stunning reading of the Peter Bellamy number that shows her voice in fine powerful fettle.

Bellamy’s also called on for his setting of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Gentleman Rankers’, a poem about English army troopers, the legions of the lost, sung a capella and featuring the lost sheep baa baa chorus.

Two other potent figures from the folk heritage are represented, firstly with Carthy joined by Jon Boden on wheezing concertina for a stripped down take on Leon Rosselson’s ‘The Man Who Puffs The Big Cigar’, a song written as part of the early 70s protests against the development of Piccadilly Circus which brings together the stories of a property developer and two lovers, a stripper and trapeze artist, who arrange to meet at the Eros statue but are confounded by the building work. A long-time staple of her live set, this is its second recording (first, was with Boden for a collection called “And they all sang Rosselsongs” a few years ago) as indeed is also the case for ‘Dream of Napoleon’, rousingly performed a capella with Boden.

The other heritage name is that of Robert Burns, represented with a voice and violin revisiting of ‘The Slave’s Lament’, originally recorded for the first Waterson:Carthy album, punctuated here with her own haunting instrumental ‘Farewell To A Dark Haired Friend’.

Two further traditional numbers follow with her solo voice and violin arrangement of ‘Lady All Skin And Bone’, the lengthier and lyrically darker version of an old children’s playground Halloween song, and, another graveyard song, ‘The Old Sexton’, a lively rendition for which space was found in the bedroom for David Delarre’s acoustic guitar and Ben Somers’ double bass. It ends with Ben Seal on keys for his and Carthy’s liltingly waltzing setting of ‘The Last Rose Of Summer’, written in 1805 by Irish poet Thomas Moore, a terrific finale for an album that strips Carthy’s work back to its raw material and which will surely be greeted with open arms.

P.S. Restitute, the deluxe double disc edition featuring hand-drawn postcards and the unabridged audiobook of The Announcer’s Daughter read by Carthy with music by her and Seal broadcast on Radio 4 in 2014 is now sold out and no longer available.

Mike Davies

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

‘Gentlemen Rankers’ – live:

Ben Somers announces debut solo album

Ben Somers

Acclaimed folk and jazz musician Ben Somers releases his brand new album, Poor Stuart on 7 September – a polished and accomplished collection of twelve pieces, ten original, heavily influenced by American, Scandinavian and English roots music.

Showcasing masterful musicianship, the album effectively harnesses elements of folk, bluegrass, traditional and in parts jazz, moving effortlessly between instrumentals and vocal led tracks, which, like all good folk music, are filled with compelling story-telling, delivered by Ben’s smooth and distinctive vocal.

“Although sometimes complicated or sophisticated this album is strongly rooted in traditional and honest music like folk and country which I grew up on,” says Ben. “Overall I hope that all can hear the honesty that I’ve put into making this record. It is a direct representation of many of my passions and it’s real people playing real music.”

The album opens with the feel good swing of the title track, ‘Poor Stuart’ followed by ‘Sideman’ – more classic bluegrass written after touring with a US Bluegrass band. Next up is an excellent medley of two of Ben’s favourite songs, early blues standard, ‘Trouble In Mind,’ written by jazz pianist Richard M. Jones and ‘Fasiken’ a traditional fiddle song by Norwegian musician/composer Annlaug Børsheim.

“I’m drawn to songs which can be played in different genres and still carry the same weight,” says Ben. “Trouble In Mind talks very honestly about the human condition of loneliness and depression and ‘Fasiken’ in Swedish means ‘Damn it!’. I heard a quote from ‘The Raging Cajun’, fiddler Doug Kershaw, in which he said ‘I don’t dwell on the past…And I think that’s the secret. If I were to linger, the blues would hit me like a truck doing ninety miles an hour. So, my advice is this: learn to play the damn fiddle!’ – After hearing this the two tunes were inextricably linked in my mind.”

The exhilarating ‘Good Boy’ fuses Ben’s jazz training with the country and roots music he grew up with and ‘Back in the Saddle’ is Ben’s bluegrass take on the Gene Autry classic. Elsewhere there’s the uplifting ‘Life On The Road,’ and the sultry ‘Blakes Reel’ – a tribute to the musician and writer Norman Blake.

“This composition was heavily influenced by the ‘chamber-old time’ sound of Norman’s album ‘Natasha’s Waltz’ and my bowed bass is a nod to his wife Nancy – who played the cello on the record.”

The odd time signature, ornamentation and chord sequence of ‘Torontolu’ are heavily influenced by the folk music of Armenia, thanks to fiddle player Marius Pibarot’s experience playing in Armenian folk bands (he wrote the song). ‘A Bored Farewell’ is a straight up country hurting song juxtaposed with ‘Mélodie Pour Jules’, a moving and reflective piece written for a terminally ill friend. ‘Blue Shadows On The Trail’ is a cover of the 1947 Roy Rogers song, with lead vocals from Ben’s father – Steve Somers.

“It’s been a song that has been part of my life since I was born, a part of my Dad’s repertoire and now part of mine” says Ben.

“We recorded all the instruments in two days,” says Ben on the album’s recording. “I like to work this way. I find having too much time to stop, talk and go back to things can be detrimental to the honesty of music which relies on each individual performance and has a lot of improvisation. In a working environment like this it can be high pressure but this often leads to a stronger bond musically and personally.”

Ben Somers was basically born in ‘the dressing room’, his father, Steve was and still is an active musician who has played with the likes of Glenn Campbell, Don Everly, Billie Jo Spears, Diane Solomon, Frank Ifield, Lonnie Donegan, Freddie Weller.  Inspired massively by his father, plus the likes of Sonny Rollins, Willie Nelson, cellist Rushed Eggleston and Dr John, Ben has been playing music since the age of 16. Brought up around folk, country and bluegrass but having studied jazz, he is as at home on the jazz scene as he is on the folk scene, has released several albums of original material and has acted as collaborator and sideman to many others. Releases include 2015’s New Orleans inspired album Brass Hysteria, 2016’s The Highway Is My Home’ made with his Dad under The Steve & Ben Somers Country Band and last year he released Live At De Melkbus – a live bluegrass album, recorded with his string band. Ben tours constantly with credits including Seal, Taylor Swift, Dr John, Bruce Molsky, Darol Anger and more.

Artist’s website: https://ben-somers.com  

‘Poor Stuart’ live: