Eliza Carthy

I have too much time on my hands. I daydream of assembling tribute bands for the truly deranged. I'd like to make one for AC/DC comprising octogenarian housewives, because only they could reproduce Brian Johnson's vocals and Angus's movements with anything approaching accuracy. I used to want to make folk records with techno-niblets all over them, folk being a genre that naturally lends itself to an infinite variety of arrangements, and techno having the ability to add and subtract layer upon layer of texture without the listener being jostled about in the confusion. The intended result is a balance of structure and formlessness, old and new, crunchy and creamy. Then everyone started doing it. So much for the peanut butter revolution.

Eliza Carthy's Angels and Cigarettes is yet another example of how to do it really well. Which is not to say her record is like everyone else's electronic-flavor, postmodern, alt.folk.singer.songwriter.yawn. To do techno-folk right requires two things in my opinion: great writing and production aimed at supporting the songs, rather than dressing them up.

As with all good records, it's taken me several listenings to realize the full depth of the arrangements, which are as individual as the simple elements of humanity about which Carthy writes. "Whispers of Summer" opens the record with its charming fiddle melody and drum tracks set to the rich vocal harmonies yearning from afar for warmer, happier times. "Beautiful Girl," perhaps the liveliest track with its techno sendup, takes a look at the brevity of youth. Is that jealousy or sympathy? "Company of Men" is an unapologetic torch song willfully shunning the spotlight: "All I want is to get my fix and get away/'cause beautiful people are boring." "Perfect," an open, peaceful, and lush canvas, urges the listener simply to live without fear or expectation but, nonetheless, to live.

Carthy's style is by no means brand new, but it is unusual, and apparently she has some clout in the biz. She's got heavy hitters in the lineup, she's got big (really big) names opening doors for her, and if that weren't enough, she's got a genetic predisposition for musical greatness. But you know what, who cares? She doesn't need all that; she's got a natural affinity toward writing well-crafted songs and the musical gifts to present them perfectly to her audience.

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