Waterson:Carthy | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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With every record it produces, the British folk family known as Waterson:Carthy proves over again that traditional music doesn't have to sound like it belongs in a museum. For the clan's latest collective offering, Broken Ground (Topic), singer and guitarist Martin Carthy--a veteran of Steeleye Span, the Albion Country Band, and the harmony vocal group the Watersons--and his singer-fiddler daughter Eliza paged through yellowed British songbooks to find forgotten gems. Martin's liner notes are full of the lore unearthed with each discovery: of "The Ditchling Carol," about a church choir that likes to take its music on the road despite the disapproval of church reformers, he writes, "Other places included going as far as Dorking twenty five miles or so away, which is nothing these days but these were people who walked to their gigs." But the archival tone dissipates in light of the family's lively interpretations. On her own, Eliza Carthy takes a more daring approach to fusing ancient and modern: on the first disc of her two-CD solo set Red Rice (Topic) she performs relatively traditional renderings of British folk tunes, but the companion disc features an expansive electric sound that touches on everything from dub to trip-hop to rock. She's a great instrumentalist and an expressive singer who can straddle the generational divide with soul and beauty; her mother, Norma Waterson, however, is the family's true vocal treasure. Although her second solo album, The Very Thought of You (which Hannibal has released in the UK only), fails to attain the folk-rock perfection of 1997's Norma Waterson, it does show that she can make even a hoary standard like "Over the Rainbow"--or the phone book, for that matter--sound sublime. The band now includes Eliza's husband, Saul Rose, on melodeon; live, they infuse their material with an even more infectious joy than on record. Saturday, 8 PM, Unitarian Church of Hinsdale, 17 W. Maple, Hinsdale; 708-802-0236. --Peter Margasak

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