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Martin Carthy and Eliza Carthy - It takes two
on 2 June 2014
Spinning this album for the first time your mind wistfully harks back to all those great Waterson-Carthy albums over the past 20 years. The dawning then hits the listener that despite this massive wealth of music "The Moral of the Elephant" actually represents the first time that the doyen of British folk music and his uber talented and wonderfully wayward daughter have released a duo album together. In a recent interview Eliza Carthy spoke in jest that "this is the first time we've got around to kicking mum out". It is understood that Martin determined diplomatically not to comment but broke into a wry chuckle.
Whilst the presence of folk giant Norma Waterson has been a central plank of all the previous albums the "The Moral of the Elephant" stands in its own right as an masterful LP by two of the genre's prime exponents playing alone, live in the studio and in barebones acoustics. This simplicity brings out the best in the both of them on an excellent set of mostly traditional songs. Carthy Senior kicks the ball onto the pitch with a great version of "Her Servant Man" with a wonderfully steadfast vocal and stirring fiddle from Eliza. She in turn follows with a sumptuous version of Molly Drake's "Happiness" showing that Drake's own son Nick was not the only talent in the family. As for the emotive vocal of Eliza you would be a foolish soul not to track this one down. Both Carthy voices sing in unison for the first time on the album on the joyful "Blackwell Merry Night", whilst that old warhorse a "Grand Conversation on Napoleon" is given another outing on which the two artists show how folk music in classic stanzaic form should be done. The revisiting of Queen of Hearts" which was on Martin Carthy's debut nearly 50 years ago demonstrates how he remains a supreme master of the folk art. When it comes to "Bonny Moorhen" the Carthy's have not recorded the slightly better known Jacobite lament, but the rousing story of the men of Weardale's 19th Century revolt on land rights against the Bishop of Durham. It is stirring stuff and effortless in their hands, although the glorious "Died for Love" is its story telling match and warmly dedicated to Martin's late brother-in-law the remarkable Mike Waterson.
Another non traditional song alongside Molly Drake is Eliza's cover of the late Bard of Dundee, Michael Marra's "Monkey Hair". It tells the tale of the "wife of a Scottish minister who decides to cut him off from having any more children because he keeps sending their children away to war...to be killed." Throughout Eliza's voice is beautifully controlled and this version is an album standout, packed with drama and humanity. In one sense the "The Moral of the Elephant" is a relative companion piece to 2010's "The Gift" but with the father and daughter combination eschewing high profile guests and steering the ship in whatever direction they choose. The album is a heady mix and your reviewer can now thankfully post these thoughts and quickly return for yet another serving of this brilliant authentic music.