Norma Waterson is a national treasure but not normal fodder for Bright Young Folk. Imagine my delight then, when I heard of this album being recorded with her daughter Eliza Carthy.
There is little that can sound so glorious as relations singing in harmony together. I’m no expert on why it works so well, but family singers have a long tradition that continues today, not only with the Watersons et al, but also the Wilsons, the Young Coppers and others. So how do Norma and Eliza shape up outside of the usual Waterson:Carthy lineup?
The album alternates between Norma and Eliza taking lead vocals, with some songs sung entirely by one of them, whilst in others they duet wonderfully together.
If you’re looking for a large dose of experimentation then this album may be too ’trad’ for you, sticking on the whole to fairly faithful renditions. However, Ukulele Lady/ (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice injects a surprising and exotic element to Gift that works really well.
Alongside Norma and Eliza a plethora of folk stars make an appearance or two. Martin Carthy and Saul Rose are not unexpected, but we also get turns from Martin Simpson, Aidan Curran and the whole Waterson clan.
The Rose and the Lily is a particularly beautiful song that showcases Norma and Eliza’s voices, whilst Psalm of Life also contains some wonderful touches from Roger Williams on trombone.
A number of the tracks have been collected by Norma over the years, including the wonderful Boston Burglar. This is one of a number of American songs on Gift that give the album a transatlantic feel.
Bonaparte’s Lament is one of my favourites, with a great story, a stirring melody, and really enjoyable fiddle and triangle playing.
In contrast, the final track, Shallow Brown, comes across like a spiritual, and is a wonderful moment to bring the entire family together. It closes the album with poise and a real sense of contentment.
At heart this is a simple non-showy album, and feels like a labour of love between mother and daughter. That warmth of purpose comes through in the delivery of every track, as well as the sleeve notes and album artwork. The calibre of each song, the arrangements and performance make Gift a wonderful collaborative album from two of the country’s best singers.Liz Osman
Released 13 July 2010.
1. Poor Wayfaring Stranger
2. Little Grey Hawk
3. Boston Burglar
4. The Nightingale/For Kate
5. Bonaparte’s Lament
6. The Rose and the Lilly
7. Bunch of Thyme
8. Ukulele Lady/ (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice
9. Psalm of Life
10. Prairie Lullaby
11. Shallow Brown