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Eliza Carthy

Here's the new face of world alterna-folk music and her name is Eliza Carthy. The British singer, songwriter and fiddler certainly cannot be lumped together with internationally-known contemporaries like Celtic vocal forerunners Loreena McKennitt and Enya or even Cape Breton fiddling sensation Natalie MacMaster because of her distinctly more modern approach to the traditional folk idiom. Carthy, with her flamboyantly dyed turquoise blue hair and multiple piercings, appears more like a punk rocker than a folk singer, but this 24-year-old is categorically traditional when it comes to showcasing her vibrant brand of global neo-folk music. The daughter of Irish folk guitar iconoclast Martin Carthy (original Steeleye Span member) and British singer Norma Waterson, Carthy inexplicably places a high level of respect on her parents' long-established traditions, but she does so in her own distinctly unique fashion. On Angels & Cigarettes, her captivating major label debut, Carthy draws on a lavish, extroverted pop landscape that defines her modern sounding collection of personal, passionate and intensely affecting songs. On the sublime eroticism of "Whole," Carthy has absorbed a rich tapestry of traditional sounds melding a balance of conventional techniques with the innovative. Her captivating lyrics, entrancing vocal melodies, sublime fiddle bowing and heartfelt arrangement defines her unique melting pot of the old and new. "Train Song" is a dark, ramshackle piece of traditional-style folk; the charming "Perfect" echoes a sultry samba rhythm with regal lyrical phrasing; and the sexually blatant "The Company of Men" (thanks to lines like "I've given blowjobs on couches/To men who didn't want me anymore") redirects folk into a explicitly candid world where no current singer-songwriter has dared enter. Frank lyrical expressions resurrecting the blunt sentiments of battle-worn, no-bullshit female songsters like Joan Baez, Marianne Faithful and P.J. Harvey is the preferable company Carthy hopes to keep within her reach as she continually develops her modern sounding assortment of dark, human and more uncivilized folk-based themes. A cover of Paul Weller's "Wildwood" is redrafted as intoxicating trip-hop. Eclectic producer-songwriter Van Dyke Parks contributes on some of the colorful arrangements and R.E.M./Richard Ashcroft collaborator BJ Cole on pedal steel guitar fleshes out the innovative scenario. The future of folk definitely belongs to the brutally emotional Eliza Carthy, a talented new force to be reckoned with whose career is just beginning.

More by Ron Bally

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