A follow-up to their excellent 2010 mother-daughter record The Gift, U.K. folk luminaries Norma Waterson and Eliza Carthy lead a nimble six-piece ensemble on the richly reflective and occasionally whimsical Anchor. An especially poignant return for Waterson, who endured a harrowing illness that left her in a coma after their last release as a duo, Anchor is a powerful performance arriving late in her career and is a testament to both her strength of will and creative voice. As with most releases in the Waterson-Carthy family canon, husband and father Martin Carthy assumes his role as guitarist and, on a haunting rendition of the traditional classic "Scarborough Fair," lead vocalist. For her part, Eliza nearly matches her mother's earthen elegance as a singer while turning in some of the most natural and sympathetic fiddle work of her career. Recorded live in a chapel in the family's Yorkshire hometown of Robin Hood's Bay, Anchor is very much a living organism, grandly bearing every creak and rustle, every scuff of rosin, and string slide to create a rich environment of sound and sometimes fury. From Norma's evocative telling of Tom Waits' "Strange Weather" to Eliza's brassy and wild take on the Monty Python's Meaning of Life classic "The Galaxy Song," there's an ease of drama, humor, and confident mastery across the board. Credited as the Gift Band, the sextet behind the two singers is as deft and experienced as its leaders with some especially tasteful playing from pianist/accordionist Phil Alexander and the great British pop woodwindist, Kate St. John. A darkly textured rendition of KT Tunstall's haunting "Shanty of the Whale" brilliantly features all three primary singers interwoven in familial unison, and the Eliza-led "The Elfin Knight" has the most rock & roll spirit, but it's 78-year-old Norma's aching version of the late Michael Marra ballad "The Beast" that provides some of the most bittersweet moments on this wonderful set.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger