Eliza Carthy is a fiddler, singer and folk babe extraordinaire. Rough Music is her latest album. Released in 2005, it’s taken a while for us to review it because…well…I guess I would rather listen to it than write about it! From the striking cover photo, to every note that is played, this is a gorgeous record of English folk music.
Rough Music is described (the liner notes tell us) in the Book of Days on October 28th as “a form of community punishment practised all over England. If a man were seen to be (say) beating his wife, or ‘allowing himself to be hen-pecked’…he could expect to receive a concert of rough music…[that is] all the men, women and children of the village would go round to your house in the middle of the night, call out your name and proceed to bang pots, pans, tin lids and buckets or whatever came to hand, to bring your crimes to attention and drive you out.” Eliza then tells of a case that happened in North Yorkshire in the early ’70s, that she witnessed! She then says, “we’ve tried to make the album a bit nicer than that.”
I’d say they have succeeded. “Turpin Hero” starts things off with all fiddles all the time. Eliza plays her fiddle, Jon Boden plays fiddle and double bass, Ben Ivitsky joins on viola and John Spears adds melodeon. This is the basic group for this string-rich collection, played with precision and artistry. This first song celebrates the career of Dick Turpin, highwayman, who robbed from the rich, and…kept the spoils of his efforts. Eliza sings the lead, but everyone joins on harmonies. It’s one of those classic ballads that haunt you long after it’s finished. Eliza learned this one from a recording of Ewen MacColl and Peggy Seeger. There’s a bit of a Philip Glass feel to it in the instrumental section.
Next up is a fine cover of Billy Bragg’s “King James Version.” Jon Boden switches to guitar, and Heather Macleod adds some vocals. “Cobbler’s Hornpipe” follows as a showcase for Eliza’s stunning fiddle-work. In fact it’s an example of the superb ensemble playing by these four talented musicians. “Gallant Hussar” adds snare and lemon drums to the mix, played by Mattie Foulds. Fay Hield sings. The harmonies are splendid.
The album continues in this vein. As always, the musicianship is extraordinary. The tunes, whether traditional or new, are played with gusto and skill. Another Eliza Carthy album is always a welcome addition to the folk collection here at Green Man Review.