IT SEEMS impossible that Eliza Carthy has been around long enough for a comeback, let alone a 21st anniversary celebration.
But her latest release is a bit of both. The Wayward Tour (Scarlet Records), a live DVD and CD of Carthy’s 2013 gigs alongside Jim Moray, doesn’t just celebrate her performing career, it also showcases her return from the throat problems that have dogged her in recent years, resurfacing in 2012 and forcing her to put this tour back by a year.
She writes in the liner notes of suffering some “very dark” times but there’s no trace of that in this rollicking ramble through the highlights of her back catalogue.
Backed by a 13-piece folk supergroup — including Bellowhead multi-talent Sam Sweeney, himself barely older than her career — Carthy is in fine, powerful voice.I’d previously found Carthy easier to admire than like. Her experiments never quite clicked and her more traditional work never quite got out from under the Waterson dynasty’s shadow.
But the technical work she has done since having throat surgery seems to have expanded her range and power and, on this evidence, she’s maturing into a singer who could one day rival her mother Norma Waterson’s towering presence. No small feat and I’m happy after 21 years to be belatedly converted to the Carthy fanclub.
Meanwhile the Poozies are celebrating their own quarter-century with a minor comeback in the shape of Into the Well (Schmooz Records), their first album in six years. Delayed partly because of founder member Sally Barker’s unlikely run to the final of The Voice on BBC1 last year, it’s a genre hopping affair, ranging from the kind of traditional Scottish Gaelic songs that helped the Poozies make their name all those years ago, through jigs, reels and self-penned songs to the out-and-out country of closing track Three Chords and the Truth.
Matching tight, atmospheric arrangements and their trademark tight harmonies, it’s a slow-burning record but one that’s sprinkled with magic moments.
When it comes to slow-burning magic, though, there are few to compare with rising star Emily Portman.
Already a BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winner for her song Hatchlings, Portman inhabits the same dark, fantastical world as her occasional collaborator Alasdair Roberts.
Fans of Portman should get to the front of the queue to check out her third album Coracle (Furrow Records).
Often intensely personal — motherhood and the fragility of life are a recurring theme — its 11 self-penned songs weave ancient folk themes and sparse, atmospheric arrangements with such skill that it will be no surprise to see Portman’s name on the Folk Awards shortlist again next year.
Benjamin Folke Thomas is folk more in name than nature but don’t let that put you off. The gritty-voiced Swede’s third album Rogue State of Mind (Bucketful of Brains) is firmly at the country-rock end of Americana — think Townes Van Zandt or even Warren Zevon.
But Folke Thomas is confident in ranging from jangling wide-screen epics to intimate fingerpicked laments. And he’s steeped deeply enough in the tradition that, like Van Zandt, he doesn’t seem to write songs so much as channel something older and deeper and wiser than him. A gem of an album.