IN “Big Machine,” Eliza Carthy has crafted the first truely evolutionary folk album of the last decade. Our reporter Andrew Riley gave it a listen.

Taking classic songs from Manchester’s Cheetham library records, as well as tracks written as we all watched the awful pictures as bodies of refugees  washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean, this album is more than just a collaboration of folk talent, but a statement of intent for the future of English folk music.

Eliza Carthy on the fiddle at Purbeck Valley festival Photo credit: Neil King
Eliza Carthy on the fiddle at Purbeck Valley festival Photo credit: Neil King

The name “Carthy” has a deep resonance in English traditional folk, with Eliza’s parents being the guitarist Martin Carthy, and her mum one of the legendary Watersons. Eliza has forged her own career and made her own name as one of the top fiddle players and vocalists of the modern era.

Recorded at various locations, including Peter Gabriel’s “Real World Studios” as well as “Rockfield” in Scotland, the album soars above what many would consider to be a folk album.

Opening track, “Fade and Fall (Love Not)” is one of the Cheethams tracks, and was written by 19th century pamphleteer Caroline Norton. Eliza discovered the track whilst making a BBC radio documentary about the famed Manchester Broadside ballads, and although a melancholy track, she felt that it was a suitable one to open up with.

Another highlight is “The Fitters Song”, a track Eliza was asked to sing by Ewan MacColl’s widow, Peggy Seeger, and told to dedicate to women engineers everywhere.

Originally written by MacColl in 1959 about the men who built the M1 motorway, here it’s given a really organic make over, and you can almost feel the tarmac sticking to the steam rollers and the hard, back breaking work that it took to build such a road.

“You Know Me” was written as a response to the sad pictures we all witnessed during Summer 2015 and beyond as the bodies of refugees, some still small children, washed up on the shores of countries around the Mediterranean, as the crisis in Syria and other countries worsened.

To quote Carthy herself, “This song is about the ancient notion of hospitality…My Great Grandmother always said you never knew if you were entertaining ‘angels unawares’ and laid an extra place at the table” It also features MC Disraeli, and is a stonkingly poignant track given the state of the world today.

On the deluxe edition you will find a song gifted to the band by MC Dizraeli after he appeared on the album version of “You Know Me” called “Aleppo in the Sun as it was”

Again, Carthy says that it was looking at photos of  Aleppo and trying to imagine saving her own children from the rubble that made it such a certainty for the album.

Overall, this is a standout album in a career of standout albums. Anyone who was expecting a female led Bellowhead will be sorely disappointed, but they will find an album to love and cherish alongside any collection, be it rock, pop or traditional folk.

This is a life affirming album that will make your soul take flight and make you dance and smile.

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