Eliza Carthy Beautiful girl what can you do
Everywhere you go people looking at you
And all the fat girls want to be your friend too
Oh beautiful

— Eliza Carthy,
"Beautiful Girl"

Eliza Carthy Albums

I might never have learned about Eliza Carthy if I hadn't seen her perform on the Conan O'Brien show. My musical tastes have become so rarefied and insular in my old age that it's difficult for me to discover new artists I really like, especially those in genres I'm unaccustomed to. Eliza's music is virtually uncategorizable, but if you had to pigeonhole her somewhere, she'd roughly fit in with the ethereal likes of Tori Amos, Kate Bush and Sarah McLachlan, which is not my scene at all.

But Eliza's hypnotic voice caught my ear, and her robust figure and bright blue hair caught my eye. Doing a web search on her, I discovered that her newest album included a cover of "Wild Wood" by my favorite singer, Paul Weller. Talent, beauty, good taste, and blue hair... yes sir, I knew I had found a keeper.

It turns out that Eliza is the daughter of English folk music legends Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson, and despite her youth, she has enjoyed an accomplished career as a folk singer and fiddler in the U.K. for nearly a decade. She made her big American debut with 2000's Angels & Cigarettes, a huge change of direction into modern pop. And for the first time she wrote all her own songs (except the aforementioned Weller classic), instead of relying on traditional folk tunes. None of this is normally my sort of music at all -- neither folk music nor electronic trip-hop -- but I love it the way Eliza does it.

Her ambitious 1998 double album Red Rice was previously my favorite, a beautiful synthesis of old folk songs with elements of many different contemporary music styles that sounds like absolutely nothing else. But in 2011 she finally topped Red Rice with her new masterpiece Neptune, the work of a mature artist applying her life's experience in a joyous outpouring of individual expression. The album's full official title is Neptune in the Stars (Wants His Bloody Pound of Fish), and the cover depicts Eliza in a giant wig with a sailing ship and seas creatures in it, but the sort of seafaring folk tunes she has explored on other albums aren't present here. The ten songs are all original compositions about her own life in various oblique ways, and they're also original in the sense that you've never freaking heard anything like this before. You could set aside the mythological allusion of the title and consider this an album from the planet Neptune. This is thrilling music, overflowing with life and color and sheer inventiveness. Listening you can feel how much fun Eliza and her band were having in the studio, and you can see their grins at the audacious glory of it all.

Eliza Carthy Albums

Heat, Light & Sound (1996)
Eliza Carthy and the Kings of Calicutt (recorded 1994; released 1997)
Red Rice (1998)
Angels and Cigarettes (2000)
Dinner (with Martin Green, 2001)
Anglicana (2002)
Rough Music (2004)
Dreams of Breathing Underwater (2008)
Gift (with Norma Watterson, 2010)
Neptune (2011)

Official Eliza Carthy Site