Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick,
Straws in the Wind
(Topic, 2006)

Straws in the Wind is Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick's first recording together in 14 years. As you might expect from this legendary duo, you are presented with a highly accomplished recording that shows the same passion and invention that has always been their trademark.

There are 14 tracks, mostly traditional, but with a couple of Swarbrick originals thrown in for good measure -- the traditional songs contained within are all, bar one, gathered from the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, published in 1959. The CD booklet contains comprehensive and illuminating explanations about all the songs and tunes, penned by Carthy himself and referring to the aforementioned Penguin book.

I'm not particularly the biggest fan of Carthy's singing, nor am I overly enthusiastic about Swarbrick's fiddle playing, but the combination of these two stalwarts of English music offers something incredibly powerful and mesmerising. What works really well for me is Swarbrick's fiddle technique, where he is often just out of kilter from Carthy's guitar and melody. This works to create an intricate, engaging arrangement -- and quite a big sound, considering there is just one fiddle, one guitar and one voice -- it is an immediately captivating encounter. The collection encompasses sea shanties, ballads and tunes, tales of royalty, aristocracy and mermaids.

Carthy's voice benefits enormously from Swarbrick's accompaniment. I have often found Carthy to be a bit too dour, but the fiddle really lifts his voice and turns that dourness into something quite magnificent. This is most splendidly demonstrated on "Ship In Distress," where Carthy turns in an absolute tour de force of a vocal performance, over a backdrop of Swarbrick's menacing fiddle and Carthy's own stark guitar arrangement -- the drama they create here is palpable.

Of the two Swarbrick originals, the album closer, "My Heart's in New South Wales," is exceptionally outstanding -- an utterly serene tune that finds Swarbrick's fiddle swooping elegantly around Carthy's sensitive and solid guitar. A first-rate melody to end a first-rate album -- if one needed proof that their legend has not diminished, Straws in the Wind offers just that.

by Mike Wilson
14 April 2007

Buy it from