Martin Carthy

Shearwater

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Martin Carthy cut this solo album in 1971, immediately after he exited Steeleye Span following two albums with them, Please to See the King and Ten Man Map. The material is very spare, featuring Carthy and his guitar alone (except on "Betsy Bell and Mary Gray," and where Steeleye Span alumnus Maddy Prior appears on vocals), or his voice alone, and his approach is very studied and deliberative here, as though reveling in the fact of singing and playing alone for the first time in several years. Some of the material is rather dark-hued in terms of story, most notably "The Banks of Green Willow" (a song best known in its classical adaptations by various composers), "Lord Randall," and "He Called for a Candle," and "Famous Flower of Serving Men," all very grim stories -- even "Outlandish Knight," in which the would-be female victim of the title character turns the tables, is pretty dark. Only "John Blunt" features any pronounced humor, and it might normally be hard to recommend a record like this as a potential first choice, except that "Famous Flower" is a high point of Carthy's career, one of the most powerful performances he's ever given on record; "Lord Randall" might be the best version ever recorded of that song; and Carthy's voice is astonishingly powerful, flexible, and rich-hued throughout. The lack of accompaniment is scarcely to be noticed on "Handsome Polly-O," in which Carthy's a cappella vocal seems to have undertones of its own accompaniment (one can almost hear the resonances of pipes and a fiddle). Surprisingly, his guitar is very restrained here, placed somewhat further down in the mix than is usual on his albums. Overall, the album is a good companion to the decidedly more upbeat Crown of Horn, recorded soon after.

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