Purveyors of centuries old folk song aren’t supposed to pepper their records with the latest production touches or sing openly about doing the Lewinsky. But little is traditional about Eliza Carthy. The scion of British folkies (mother Norma Waterson and father Martin Carthy, whose version of ”Scarborough Fair” supposedly inspired Simon and Garfunkel’s), the 25 year old singer and fiddler has made a series of augustly austere albums with her parents.
On her own, however, she’s more adventurous and brazen, seeking a link between Lilith pop and the straight backed stoicism of her heritage. Many have drowned attempting to navigate those waters, but Carthy’s first full on American release, Angels & Cigarettes, is a buoyant work that effortlessly conjures both past and present.
The difference between Carthy and the glossy likes of Irish pop folksters the Corrs is the power of Carthy’s personality, her lusty, hearty vigor. Carthy’s voice, smooth yet earthy, carries a tart, unmistakably British accent that allows her to sound either knowingly rueful or as resigned as a lovelorn barmaid. Very much retaining the spirit of early balladry, the songs (almost all of which she cowrote) are gently bawdy, from the oral sex confessions of ”The Company of Men” to the oblique erotic fantasizing of ”Train Song.” (”Angels & Cigarettes” may be the first folk rooted record to carry a parental advisory sticker.)
Another staple of British folk song, class consciousness, rears its indignant head in both ”Company” and the subtly snide ”Beautiful Girl.” Carthy and her band set these sentiments to fall crisp arrangements that intermingle her voice and sturdy fiddle with brisk rhythms, dub bass lines, and hints of electronica; the results feel at once modern and vintage. ”Angels & Cigarettes” resorts to a moment or two of adult contemporary overpolish. But by balancing the old soul within and the young soul without, Carthy scores that rare pop music victory – crossover with dignity and grace.