Big Machine Eliza Carthy and the Wayward Band Topic/Planet The breach in British folk-rock ranks caused by the break-up of that mighty bulwark Bellowhead has been plugged. An equally bullish and bodacious powerhouse collective comprising 12 compatriots fronted by England’s first lady of folk and fiddle has stepped forward with a bold, aptly titled album that matches the best in said behemoth’s catalogue. The talent-laden Wayward Band is indeed a big machine, one as geared to Eliza Carthy’s grandiose approach as the Scottish producer Jim Sutherland, whose experience in large-scale performance has assisted in creating an epic album that radiates clarity, clout and class. While members of groups such as Leveret, the Furrow Collective, Faustus, Mawkin, Blowzabella and, yes, Bellowhead aid and abet with brilliance, it’s the bandleader’s earthy and passionate vocals, robust violin playing and unmitigated vision that stamp authority on Big Machine. Subject-wise, there’s no lack of variety or invention, the track list ranging from revamped broadside ballads that address issues such as domestic violence against women, to originals that allude to refugees with inclusiveness and a madcap romp about the perils of custard eating. Musically, Carthy paints from a similarly broad palette of contrasting colours and textures, commencing with a spectacular James Bond-themed makeover of a traditional song, Fade & Fall, in which blasts of blazing brass complement her theatrical singing. Devil in the Woman follows with pounding bass guitar and drums and a morris dance middle-eight lending irony to a satirical ballad. The Fitter’s Song is rendered in New Orleans marching band style, with wailing brass offset by twang-laden electric guitar. Ewan MacColl’s rousing workers’ anthem segues into an abbreviated scat-sung chorus reading of a hornpipe and on to a growling monster of an instrumental, Love Lane, in which furious fiddles vie with howling horns and beefy bass guitar and drum. In a duet realignment of English troubadour Rory McLeod’s Hug You Like a Mountain, guest Teddy Thompson’s soulful singing works well with Carthy’s folkier strains. Irish singer Damien Dempsey’s impassioned falsetto merges with the leader’s vocals on a heartrending trad ballad, I Wish the Wars were All Over. A compelling mid-track rap from MC Dizraeli, coupled with funky guitar, accordion vamp, and call-and-response vocals, accents You Know Me, Carthy’s intelligent take on refugee hysteria. Like any self-respecting sea shanty, even one containing modern vernacular, Great Grey Back comes with a singalong refrain. Another reconstructed broadside, The Sea, ebbs and flows with soaring trumpet and sawing fiddles marking its high-water mark, before the viscous custard-related Epitaph offers a deliciously tongue-in-cheek valedictory wave.