This coming together of four highly respected folk artists (Eliza Carthy, Bella Hardy, Lucy Farrell and Kate Young) has been trailed for a few months now, with intriguing quotes from Eliza Carthy such as “we had such a good time, and such nice tunes, that we thought we would make this album as an excuse to hang out some more.” All four women are known for their attention grabbing vocals and also as top notch fiddle players, but, with their very different styles and backgrounds, just what sort of music would such a collaboration produce? It seemed highly unlikely that we’d merely get a female Feast of Fiddles and indeed the 12 tracks of the Laylam album could hardly be more different.
The slice of the musical landscape covered on the album can properly be described as eclectic, ranging from English tradition through gospel to 1940’s American pop, and all with a unique twist. You may recognise some of the track titles, but don’t expect to necessarily recognise the music.
The opening track is the classic old time fiddle tune ‘Greasy Coat’, and straightaway it puts down markers for what to expect from the album. Instrumentally, one fiddle takes the melody, the other three layering up the arrangement. Vocally, it starts with a solo voice taking each line, the other three giving a refrain. But as the track progresses, each voice adds a harmony line. Superb tight harmonies are a recurring highlight of the album and instrumentally, the fiddles and occasional use of viola and cello provide all the support that the voices need.
Traditional songs, both English and American, are spaced throughout the album. One nice touch is the inclusion of ‘Chickens in the Garden’, check out the pedigree of this song and you find it was collected as recently as 1974 by Eliza’s mum and dad, Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson. A track listed as ‘Myrtle Tree’, turns out to be fundamentally the same song as ‘Flash Company’, found on Bellowhead’s Burlesque album, but this couldn’t be more different from their raucous style. On Laylam, it’s given an almost acapella treatment with just a single pizzicato fiddle for accompaniment, giving the vocal harmonies full prominence.
An unconventional treatment is given to ‘100 years’, a fairly well known halyard shanty with the refrain, ‘A hundred years ago’. It starts conventionally enough, well conventional so long as you’re not thinking Fisherman’s Friends, but, as it progresses, it begins to sound more and more like a French cafe accordion piece.
As for the distinctly non-trad parts of the album, how about a close harmony jazzy treatment of Peggy Lee’s 1940s hit, ‘Why Don’t You Do Right’? Or a playful take on the Patsy Cline country song, ‘Walking After Midnight’?
I really didn’t know what to expect from this album and it certainly contained some surprises. But the sheer enjoyment that was felt during the making of it shines through and makes it a total delight.
Review by: Johnny Whalley
29th- The Musician, Leicester
30th- The Firestation, Windsor
31st- The Cornerstone, Didcot
6th- Clair Hall, Haywards Heath
7th- Ashcroft Arts Centre, Fareham
8th- Diss Corn Hall
9th- The Plough Arts Centre, Great Torrington
10th- Birmingham Conservatoire