Folk CD of the month: Norma Waterson & Eliza Carthy with the Gift Band: Anchor review

(Topic Records)

In folk, there are people you always expect to be there, sowing the seeds, ploughing the fields, releasing music as if it was as rooted in their bones as the turning of the seasons. The Waterson-Carthys are one of these tribes – and indeed Eliza Carthy and Marry Waterson have had a busy few years – but matriarch Norma has been understandably quiet, since serious illness left her in a coma in 2010. After it, she had to teach herself how to walk and talk again, in her 70s, which makes the release of this record even more extraordinary.

Recorded as live in a chapel in the family’s home town, Yorkshire’s Robin Hood’s Bay, and with a full, rousing band, Anchor is as steadfast and timeless as its title implies. Not that it is a record of ancient lore: it is a broadminded, spellbinding and often surprising collection of songs, celebrating the influences on the family and their friends. It begins with Norma singing Tom Waits’ Strange Weather, her voice warm and gently rough, as it dashes through lyrics playfully (“I believe that brandy’s mine”) and with well-worn resignation (“all over the world strangers / Talk only about the weather”). This combination of deep joy and bruised bar-room melancholy sets the tone for this record, making it sing.

Traditional numbers sit alongside newer songs like old friends. The Elfin Knight storms and rages, announced by thundering strings, while KT Tunstall’s Shanty of the Whale becomes an experimental, atmospheric delight. Norma’s cover of Nick Lowe’s The Beast in Me, famously covered by Johnny Cash, is particularly moving, and there are many songs about stars and our place in the world, including Eliza’s glorious romp through The Galaxy Song from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. The record ends beautifully with a singalong of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, reminding us how music connects generations of families, and keeps sparkling long after we’ve gone.

Other folk picks this month

For those who like paddling in the psych side of folk, Modern StudiesWelcome Strangers is a fantastic collection of woozy, lovely songs, while A Year in the Country’s Audio Albion is the latest brilliant release in an ongoing project to map landscape and memory through eerie instrumentals and twisted takes on folk culture. If you prefer languid, radio-friendly folk, Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage’s Awake is a particularly flawless example, while Will Finn and Rosie Calvert’s Beneath This Place offers an unexpectedly lovely twist on trad, with steel pans fluttering light into old ballads.


Jude Rogers

The GuardianTramp

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