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NORMA WATERSON & ELIZA CARTHY with THE GIFT BAND Anchor Topic 00478


Emotion runs high listening to this. It’s seven years or so since Norma Waterson fell into a coma resulting from a leg infection after a concert following the release of their last album together, the majestic Gift. We feared the worst for a while and the


likelihood that she’d ever get back in the stu- dio certainly seemed remote. But they’re made of stern stuff those Watersons and, with unfinished business to attend to, Norma regained her voice and, with Neill MacColl and Kate St John converting the old Fisher- head Congregational Church in Robin Hood’s Bay into a studio for the occasion, Norma and Eliza finally continue where they left off with the follow-up to Gift.


But as you’d expect from this family, not one scrap of sentiment is involved in the formidable strength it wields. As the album opens with an eerie bass line, a dark and mys- terious melody and Norma’s familiar voice leading us into Tom Waits’ brooding Strange Weather you know that safe and cosy was never going to be an option. And the great- est fear – does Norma still even have a voice? – is instantly blown out of the water.


Dafné Kritharas


DAFNÉ KRITHARAS Djoyas De Mar Lior Editions LI001/1


To the list of entrancing women singers of Judeo- Spanish or Ladino music such as the more familiar Mor Karbasi or Yasmin Levy you can add this very fine young Greek/ French singer.


Biographical info is thin on the ground – she doesn’t


even seem to have a web site – but apparently 26-year-old Dafné was born in Paris to a Greek father and French mother, and – in the same way that Karbasi is part of a duo with guitar accompanist partner Joe Taylor – her Facebook page indicates that she’s normally to be found working live in a duo with guitarist/singer Paul Barreyre whose considerable talents are a key part of this album’s arrangements. Others par- ticipating are her cousin, improvising pianist Camille El Bacha (think Bojan Z in places), and percussionist Naghib Shanbehzadeh. All three accompanying musicians are top of their game and provide perfect, mostly understated set-


tings – even in complicated time signatures – in which Kritharas’ lovely voice can make its mark without resorting to unnecessary over- emoting.


What makes this record shine in its own right alongside those other Judeo-Spanish singers is the Greek flavour of seven of the twelve tracks, mostly rembetika and songs from Smyrna originating in the 1920s and ‘30s. There’s just the right smattering of more familiar songs, though the beautiful piano- accompanied Bournovalia that closes the album doesn’t seem to be the celebrated song of the same title recorded back in the 1920s by the legendary Marika Papagika. And among the Ladino tracks, her version of the familiar La Rosa Enflorece, aka Los Bibilicos (the nightingales) is impeccable.


Like many beautiful, subtle and under- stated records, it’s an absolute grower. A few times through and it’s hard to prise it out of the CD player. Hear one of the more upbeat tracks on this issue’s fRoots 69 compilation.


facebook.com/paul.dafne Ian Anderson


Then there’s vintage Eliza leading the family on a dramatic, barnstorming Elfin Knight that wouldn’t be out of place in a Wayward Band set, so the rest of the album is no more predictable. A reflectively fragile take on Michael Marra’s The Beast In Me; an object lesson in building tension and passion by restraint on a beautifully weighted arrangement of Pete Bellamy’s setting of Kipling’s The Widow’s Party; a sensitive excur- sion into show tune territory on Kurt Weill’s Lost In The Stars which – East End piano at full tilt – explodes into a delicious Eric Idle comedy track The Galaxy Song.


Martin Carthy’s presence is felt quite prominently throughout, not least singing with his wife and daughter on KT Tunstall’s acutely poignant Shanty Of The Whale – a song she was apparently inspired to write lis- tening to the Watersons; and revisiting his greatest hit, Scarborough Fair. I could per- haps do without the swing version of Twin- kle Twinkle Little Star but, paying homage to all corners of the vast canvas which has shaped them over the years – Wild Colonial Boy is a tribute to Margaret Barry – the over- riding mellowness colludes with beautiful arrangements and the simple power of human voices in inspirational unity to create a very special album.


www.topicrecords.co.uk Colin Irwin


Photo: Chloe Kritharas Devienne & Sophie Blum


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