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MARTIN & ELIZA CARTHY - The Moral Of The Elephant

MARTIN & ELIZA CARTHY - The Moral Of The Elephant
Topic Records TSCD587

This CD had to happen. Martin and Eliza have recorded together in several combinations and a fully-fledged duo CD was rapidly becoming mandatory! Typically, this is a stripped-down, live-sounding set of carefully-chosen songs, arranged (that’s not the right word, but it’ll have to do) and performed with huge sensitivity, gusto and enjoyment. I can see the pair of them sparking off one another just by listening to this. The process apparently involved rehearsing two songs for a day, recording them a few times, live in the studio, during the evening and then choosing the best take - no messing. So, pretty flawless, but live and kicking. That’s the perfect combination. I think I detect a few overdubs, but this is admirably close to a bunch of live takes.

Before I get started, let me put my cards on the table. I love these people and their music, so this is not a critical review of the sort of noises the Carthys make. I can’t do that. I can however tell you how good, bad (as if!) or indifferent this is as a Carthy family album. And I will, at the end.

This is a varied collection – kicking off with the very Martin Carthy Her Servant Man - all spring-heeled guitar, punctuating the melody, with Martin’s conversational singing style grabbing you by the ears and a slightly stately fiddle from Eliza. Next up is Molly Drake’s relaxed, romantic Happiness, with Eliza conjuring up lazy tea (or Pimms or G&T!) and scones on the lawn on a sunny afternoon. It’s not difficult to see that Nick Drake’s quirky English style came from his mum. There’s a Carthy-Swarbrickesque Blackwell Merry Night with both singing, then the bouncy Queen Caraboo – Martin telling the jolly tale of the redoubtable young female gypsy. The title track is a terrific telling of the well-known tale of the blind men and the elephant. I’ve always loved the poem, as it really nails our human ability to get the wrong end of a stick by failing to see the whole picture (mixed metaphor - sorry). Eliza’s delightfully lugubrious tune carries the story beautifully. There’s a lovely Michael Marra song and Martin and Eliza both having another pop at Queen Of Hearts (originally on M’s very first album!). The final track is one of these rare and precious things – a surviving Mike Waterson song arrangement - Died For Love. Once again, on this song, the Carthys show how an accompaniment that basically plays bits of melody on guitar and fiddle while singing the same melody is fabulously effective. It drives the song along, but puts all the focus on the song itself, not on widdley-widdley distracting noises from instruments.

So – you have now guessed whether I think this is a good Carthy offering. This is a CD to which I will have to ration myself – along with albums like Penguin Eggs, Revolver, Martin’s Out Of The Cut, Elton John (there are more!)... all desert-island discs that I could, if I let myself, play all the time, to the detriment of my enjoyment of them. This is an extraordinary, surprising, passionate and hugely entertaining piece of work. I love it to bits and it has rapidly become a much-loved earworm.

Alan Murray

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This album was reviewed in Issue 103 of The Living Tradition magazine.