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Eliza Carthy Dreams Of Breathing Underwater Review

Album. Released 2008.  

BBC Review

This album shows just why Eliza is one of music's, and not just folk's, most important...

Chris Long 2008

It's hard to believe now, with the sheer volume of new acoustic heroes banging on about the virtues of folk, that there was a time when the whole genre was viewed as a musty old bag of bearded fustiness. One of the main reasons it's managed to shed such negative connotations is the hard work and constant invention of Eliza Carthy. There may be a plethora of folk evangelists now, but a few short years back, it felt like Eliza was about all we had to push things forward and out into the mainstream.

And push she has. Amongst her back catalogue, there's the double album Red Rice, where drum and bass meets folk fiddle, and Rough Music: a very modern exploration of the traditional country music of England. She is, it has to be said, never predictable.

Even so, that Dreams Of Breathing Underwater opens with a blues guitar, rather than her brilliant violin, comes as something of a shock, and it's not the only one to be found on the album, her seventh solo collection.

Dreams of Breathing Underwater is penned almost entirely by Eliza and writing partner Ben Ivitsky. Only the downbeat ghostliness of Hug You Like A Mountain comes from another hand: Rory MacLeod. It's an album which, even by Carthy's own standards, is pretty random, in the best way possible.

From the ethereal wonder of Lavenders, through the swelling, swaying meander of Rosalie, the squeeze-box comedic heartbreak of Little Bigman and the thrilling finale of Oranges And Seasalt, which is easily the best and most honest drinking song written for many a year, the majority of the experimentation works. Though the aforementioned opening blues number Follow The Dollar, feels increasingly dull as the rest of the album unfolds behind it.

The fact that it works is partly due to the musicianship on offer - there are turns for rambunctious folk duo, Spiers and Boden, Edinburgh rock 'n' rollers, Mystery Juice, and Scottish songstress, Eddi Reader, amongst others - and is partly down to the thoughtful songwriting, which never overfills the songs, allowing them to breathe and flourish. It can also be put down to Eliza's magnificent voice, the depth and richness of which can now comfortably sit next to her mother, Norma Waterson's, as one of the finest you will ever hear.

Dreams Of Breathing Underwater is a brilliant album that deserves applause as much for its occasional failures as it does for its multiple successes, as indeed does Eliza Carthy herself. Never one to rest on her laurels, this album shows just why she is one of music's, and not just folk's, most important and innovative artists.

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