Eliza Carthy,
(Topic Records, 1998)

I had to take a moment to check the label. Having just listened to the pop-heavy sounds of Eliza Carthy's companion album Red, released the same year, I expected Rice to be more of the same. I was wrong, and happily so.

Rice features the other side of Carthy's musical personality. The sweet, strong voice is the same, but it's bent towards British traditional ballads instead of dance-floor pop. Her fiddle, largely employed for ornamental purposes on Red, is now let loose to play unfettered by distracting electronics. Her backup band is different, too; although some of the musicians are the same, they're showing nimble skill on acoustic instruments only.

Here, Carthy's limited approach to liner notes is truly frustrating. Lyrics would be great, song origins would be fantastic.

The album begins with "Blow the Winds," a sparsely arranged song about a shepherd who's fooled by a maid, and "The Game of Draughts," a Carthy original featuring her on fiddle and Ed Boyd on bouzouki. All in all, it's a good start to the album and a good taste of Carthy's talents.

"The Snow It Melts the Soonest" matches Carthy's voice, strong and emotional, with a pair of melodeons (Saul Rose and Tristan Glover) sounding like a pipe organ. Other highlights include "Herring Song," a clever piece which verbally dismantles a fish and details how each bit is used; "Mons Meg," an intricate pipe tune featuring Carthy on both fiddle and viola, plus Boyd on guitars; "Haddock and Chips," a fully charged fiddle solo, another Carthy original which demands enviable bow control; "Benjamin Bowmaneer," a song about a tailor's preparations for war; and "Zycanthos Jig/Tommy's Foot/Quebecois," boasting an aggressive performance by Carthy on fiddle, Rose on melodeon and Boyd on guitar for a tight, nimble set. The CD ends on an appropriately lively note, "Commodore Moore/The Black Dance/A Andy O," with Carthy's dancing fiddle joined by clogging by Lucy Adams.

Carthy shows two faces on her paired albums, Red and Rice. For my money, this one is the better of the two.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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