Following in Kate Rusby’s footsteps, Carthy has celebrated her 30 years in the business with Queen Of The Whirl, an album of new recordings, featuring her live band (Saul Rose, David Delarre, Phil Alexander, Ben Seal, Willy Molleson), from songs across her illustrious career, initially released as four EPs and now combined in this album. First up, from 1997’s Eliza Carthy & The Kings of Calicutt comes ‘Whirly Whorl’, a traditional number on the familiar theme of a young woman marrying a much older man, the title a euphumism for what they get up to – or not given his age – in the bridal bed, the rework a far heavier, slower and more prog-folk number than the original’s cider-swigging romp and stomp.
The following year she released Red/Rice as a twin set, the latter represented here with a revisiting of the much recorded traditional ‘The Snow It Melts The Soonest’, again a musically darker, more sonorous reading with churchy organ rather than drone and decidedly more gravitas of loss and despair in her vocals. Its companion piece yields to songs, first ‘Stumbling On’, formerly a discordant, jazzy arrangement but now all Stonesy swaggering pub rock blues, the other another number with sexual innuendo, being ‘Accordion Song’, again originally more jazz-folk experimental with shifting time signatures but here a rollicking goodtime breezy knees up with a lurching ska undercurrent like some seaside funfair ride soundtrack.
Taken from 2000’s Angels & Cigarettes, the opening line of ‘The Company of Men’, “I’ve given blow jobs on couches to men who didn’t want me anymore” was proof were it needed that Carthy’s not your run of the mill folk singer, the original’s dreamy harp shimmers ditched here to favour violin and piano, though it still sounds like a something from another dimension’s subversive Judy Collins.
Moving back to 1996 and Heat, Light and Sound, ‘Jacky Tar’ (recorded by her dad and Dave Swarbrick in 2006) is a traditional 18th century night visiting song, though the new version with its chiming accompaniment and clumping rhythm bears little resemblance to that album’s shanty-like take, though the fiddle solo remains.
Apparently referring to Lal Waterson’s cardigans, ‘Mohair’ featured on 2005’s Rough Music and is reborn here with a decided Weill-like cabaret and music box sound while 2008’s Dreams Of Breathing Underwater offers up to reworks, the first being ‘Mr Magnifico’, fiddle here replacing original’s mariachi-like brass with Molleson providing the spoken passage. The second is ‘Two Tears’, a song she previously reworked on 2013’s anthology Wayward Daughter , this time round travelling via New Orleans funeral procession with Tom Waits leading the parade.
Two tracks depart from her solo career and originally appeared on collaborations. From 1998’s Where Have All the Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger comes a stentorian ‘My Father’s Mansions’, Carthy originally providing fiddle to Billy Bragg’s vocals but now taking the spotlight with wheezing melodeon, resonator guitar and some squally electric towards the end, but no foregrounding violin. The other, the jazzy whirligig snakecharmer sway ‘Space Girl’, appeared on Empire & Light, the 2010 album from The Imagined Village and along with the Waitsian junkyard swagger of ‘Blood On My Boots’ from 2011’s Neptune are the only new takes that pretty much hew faithfully to the original recordings.
Two further traditionals remain, both from 2002’s Anglicana, giving a slightly livelier pacing but also bluesier feel to ‘Pretty Ploughboy’ followed directly by ‘In London So Fair’, the piano far less dominant and the fiddle more, clocking in a minute shorter than the original.
It ends as it began with The Kings of Calicutt and a rousing ‘Good Morning Mr Walker (Slinger and Norma Go To The Dancehall Mix)’, a tribute to both her mother Norma and Calypso legend The Mighty Sparrow with the tune by New Mexico Cajun duo Bayou Seco, seeing things off in party style with Jon Boden, John Spiers, Sheema Mukherjee, Rory MacLeod and the Mighty Sparrow bandleader Lane Steinberg among the guests gathered on the dancefloor.
Doubtless there will be those bemoaning the fact there’s nothing from Mons Meg, Restitute, Big Machine or her collaborations with her mother on Anchor and Gift, but as Rick Nelson once said, you can’t please everyone so you got to please yourself. And I’d reckon a good 99% of her fans too. Give it a whirl.
Artist’s website: www.eliza-carthy.com
‘Good Morning Mr Walker’ – official video: