Martin Carthy

Prince Heathen

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An astonishingly good album coming toward the end of Carthy's original partnership with Dave Swarbrick (they were to join the lineups of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, respectively, within a year). The singing is, as always, first rate, nowhere better than on the haunting a cappella songs "Salisbury Plain" and the nine-minute "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard." Carthy's playing by this time had become less self-consciously complex and more confident, allowing him to accomplish more with less on his guitar. The resulting sound is spare but powerful, particularly on "Arthur McBride and the Sergeant" and "Polly on the Shore" -- his notes seem to chime like little bells on the latter. His playing on "Seven Yellow Gypsies" seems like the work of more than one guitar, and gives one a reason to listen to the song several times, taking in the playing and singing separately. Even more remarkable is the fact that the title track is another of Carthy's cut-and-paste jobs, assembled from fragments and melodies of several incomplete traditional songs.

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