Album Review | Under the Bed | Review by Kev Boyd | Stars: 5/5
Verb: to restore to a former state or position; give back, refund.
The predominant narrative accompanying Eliza Carthy’s new album speaks to it representing an act of reparation and redress for a ‘monumental’ (if unspecified) rip-off enacted on Eliza and her Wayward bandmates. As a symbol of self-determination in response to such apparent maltreatment you might imagine Restitute to be fuelled by bitterness and rancour or shot-through with resentment and anger. That’s not the case, or if it is, any acrimony is hidden deep within whatever the digital equivalent of ‘the grooves’ happens to be.
Regardless of the original motivation for this collection, these largely solo tracks – augmented with a scattering of notable cameos here and there – amount to a joyous, often emotional and always rewarding listening experience. If this is the first thing that strikes you about this album, then the second is a sense of the rich and varied quality of Eliza’s voice. We’re used to hearing how she’s one of the outstanding English fiddle players of her (or indeed any) generation, and there can be few who would argue with that, but it’s meant she’s perhaps not always been given her due as the incredible singer she clearly is.
The relatively sparse arrangements that characterise Restitute help focus attention on the two main sonic components of voice and fiddle and there’s nowhere on this album where Eliza’s singing isn’t remarkable. “Take The Man Who Puffs The Big Cigar”, with a vocal that breathes real life into a narrative that hovers between contempt and compassion for Leon Rosselson’s twin protagonists and where the song’s inherent drama develops through the nuanced interplay between Eliza’s voice and Jon Boden’s concertina. Or “The Slaves Lament / Farewell To A Dark Haired Friend”, where delicate undertones and soaring resonance exist in equal measure alongside subtle yet abrasive fiddle tones.
There are several other examples of similarly powerful singing: an unaccompanied rendition of Kipling’s “Gentlemen Rankers”; an astonishing version of “The Leaves In The Woodland” from Peter Bellamy’s perennial The Transports, with Martin Carthy helping out on guitar; an exhilarating “The Old Sexton”, from the broadside collection at Chetham’s School in Manchester. I could go on, but you get the picture? The thing is, Eliza grew to prominence during the revival of interest in British traditional music in the mid-to-late-90s, when critics tended to bestow primacy on instrumental expertise over and above vocal dexterity. Luckily, singers and musicians are stubborn buggers and Eliza is one of those who has doggedly trodden her own path regardless of opposition or favour from cloth-eared critics. So, while the instrumental elements on Restitute are faultless, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s Eliza’s voice that makes this an outstanding album.
Released as a privately-pressed, signed and numbered edition of 1,500 with exclusive art cards and a second CD featuring “The Announcer’s Daughter”, an audio book with original music written and read by Eliza Carthy.