Eliza Carthy, Dreams of Breathing Underwater (Topic Records, 2008)

From the perspective of a fan of English folk music, Eliza Carthy has royal blood. Indeed, she first came to prominence singing and fiddling in Waterson: Carthy with her parents Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy, both of whom were stars in the English folk scene well before Eliza was born. Most of her solo recordings have been folk albums as well, but every so often she makes an album where her adventurous streak comes out in full force. Such is the case with her latest effort, called Dreams of Breathing Underwater.

The album begins strongly, with the song "Follow the Dollar," a commentary on young people obsessed with pop culture. Carthy plays a souped up tenor guitar, and deftly blurs the distinction between the chorus "follow the dollar all the day" and the Irish lilt "fol lol the doh fol the day." From there, Dreams of Breathing Underwater jumps around the musical map. "Two Tears" staggers along like a Tom Waits song, only with better singing. "Mr. Magnifico" combines salsa horns with a story narrated by Tim Matthew with a thick brogue. "Like I Care (Wings)" has a Caribbean feel, complete with a hyper ska chorus. The album closes with a sing-along standard with the strange but fun title "Oranges and Seasalt." To go with the diverse musical styles, Carthy and her songwriting partner Ben Ivitsky both play a variety of instruments on the album. While I could certainly understand if some listeners would have liked to hear more of Carthy's fiddling, Carthy and Ivitsky never sound overmatched on whatever instruments they play.

Carthy can really sing as well, and her vocals shine on songs like "Rosalie" and a cover of Rory Macleod's "Hug You Like a Mountain." As she's gotten older, Carthy's voice has taken on more of the jovial warmth that Norma Waterson always brings to her songs. (I suppose she might find the insinuation that she's turning into her mother a bit unsettling, but I mean it as a compliment.)

Eliza Carthy is never dull with her music, and it's always worth a few listens to hear what she's been up to. Dreams of Breathing Underwater is worth more than a few listens, as it's one of her strongest albums to date.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott

A live performance of "Like I Care (Wings)"

Reprinted with permission from The Green Man Review
Copyright 2009 The Green Man Review

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