The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Tony Hil­lier

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.

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