I first heard the music of both Tim Eriksen and Eliza Carthy at about the same time, in the late 1990s – Eriksen as the driving force behind the U.S. electric folk group Cordelia’s Dad, and Carthy as a contributor to her mother Norma Waterson’s first eponymous 1996 album. Spine by Cordelia’s Dad and that Norma Waterson album were among my favorites of the latter part of the ’90s, and several songs and tunes from the two remain in my all-time favorite playlist. As a longtime lover of electric folk-rock in the vein of Dylan, The Band, Fairport Convention, Neil Young and The Pentangle, I loved the way Cordelia’s Dad mixed hard-core traditional songs with modern hard-core rock esthetics. And although I came to Norma Waterson as a Richard Thompson fan, I fell in love with everything about Norma’s performance, and was also drawn to Eliza’s fiddling and harmony vocals.
So here we are about 20 years later, and Eriksen and Carthy have recorded an album together. Something I’m told they’ve been wanting to do for about 20 years themselves. It’s a natural fit. Eriksen’s craggy, in-your-face mid-range voice blends delightfully with Carthy’s earthy alto, and his eclectic range of skills with stringed instruments complements her drop-dead, inimitable fiddling.
If Eriksen and Carthy never released anything else, I’d be perfectly satisfied with a “single” of “Buffalo” b/w “May Song.” “Buffalo” (a.k.a., “The Buffalo”), which was recorded before a live audience, opens the album. It features Carthy’s forceful fiddling and Eriksen playing amped-up, highly distorted electric guitar that grunges up what is otherwise a fairly faithful rendition of this early 18th-century folk song, popular in the UK and USA, in which prospective emigrants are regaled with tales of homely riches and adventure that await in the New World. You can find the lyrics and a brief discussion of “Buffalo” online. And the song that here is titled “May Song” is a lovely a capella rendition of an old English carol sometimes titled “The Moon Shines Bright.” This track showcases their voices, sounds old as the hills, and introduces many of us to the concept of a “May carol.” There’s a lengthy online article about “The Moon Shines Bright.”
But of course there’s more, much of it just as moving. These two have mined the depths of Anglo-American folk music for more than 20 years each, and on this recording they present some unexpected choices – deep cuts, if you will. Like their version of “Logan’s Lament” also known as “The Blackbird,” a variant from the 1840s of a song based on the words of one Logan, son of a mixed Indian-White marriage whose family was massacred by American soldiers. Eriksen’s electric guitar provides the sole accompaniment here with Carthy singing lead. He fingerpicks acoustic guitar (in what sounds like an adapted bagpipe tune) and sings lead on “Castle By The Sea,” an American murder ballad in which the woman turns the table on the treacherous young man. And Eliza sings “Cats And Dogs (You Seamen Bold),” from the Copper Family repertoir over Eriksen’s chiming electric and her pizzicato fiddle. The title track is an intriguing arrangement of a song also known as “A Shepherd Kept Sheep,” one of those old English roundelays with a fa-la-la refrain. Eriksen plucks sparse banjo while Carthy sings to a syncopated rhythm set by frame drum and handclaps – a very Cordelia’s Dad-like setting. You can listen to “A Shepherd Kept Sheep” here.
There’s plenty of variety, as you can see. I won’t describe all of the songs. If you’re read this far, you’d probably like this album as much as I do or more. You can learn more about it on this website from Navigator, the U.K. label (a Proper Records imprint) that released it. As far as I can tell it’s not available in physical form in the U.S. except as an import from Amazon-UK but you can download it from iTunes.