Enjoying Tradfolk? Click here to find out how you can support us
A portrait of folk singer Eliza Carthy, seated outside with a thoughtful expression, wearing a black scarf and a lip piercing, with sunlight highlighting her hair.

Eliza Carthy – No Wasted Joy, a review

Explore Eliza Carthy's No Wasted Joy, a raw folk album with powerful vocals and fiddle, released to accompany her must-see solo tour with Jennifer Reid, currently underway.

It’s easy to miss stuff on Twitter (or X. Or whatever). Hundreds of little messages whizzing by, hundreds of voices competing for your attention. There’s always something that snags at the eyeballs though. Yesterday it was a post that simply said this…

When the author of that post is Eliza Carthy, all other tweets become unnecessary for the day. Everything else can wait.

Last year, Carthy released the remarkable Conversations We’ve Had Before as a download-only album. Featuring Saul Rose and David Delarre, it was an album of traditional songs, stripped back, effortlessly peddling a less-is-more aesthetic and emerging as one of the finest traditional folk albums of the year. If that album was the culmination of years of work as a trio, then No Wasted Joy is just pure, unadulterated Eliza Carthy. It’s just her voice and her fiddle… but what a voice, and what a fiddle!

Is there anyone, in any genre, that can summon the same righteous fury, the same passion that Carthy can?

‘I Wish, I Wish’ [Roud 495] finds Carthy entirely unaccompanied, and the power of her voice is simply staggering. Is there anyone, in any genre, that can summon the same righteous fury, the same passion that Carthy can? Almost certainly not. The phrasing is extraordinary as lines, and individual words, land with a savage hammer-blow. She can take a song that is so familiar and bring you up short, and there’s something startling in the ferocity that she spits this lament. It is also, unapologetically, English. Carthy has always been at the vanguard of honest voices and, here, she seems to revel in it. At a time when local accents seem to be, once again, talked about in folk circles (see Amelia Coburn and the criticism of her “lower class Northern accent”), Carthy proudly waves the flag for her own. 

Most of the tracks on this mini album/long EP are unaccompanied but there’s fiddle on ‘Here’s a Sad Goodbye’ and it is everything that makes Carthy’s violin playing brilliant. It’s ragged and rough-edged, perfect in its imperfection. There is a real immediacy to it, as though she’s just picked up a bow and burned through the strings; as though it’s teetering on the brink but thrillingly secured. Her voice is, once again, fantastic and you can hear the charged, live atmosphere crackling around her – the room becomes an instrument too. Carthy has recorded ‘May Morning’ [Roud 2512] before, on the fourth Waterson:Carthy album, A Dark Light, and here she attacks it. Just her, her voice and her fiddle; she almost seems to be juggling the two as each fights for dominance.

‘New York Trader’ [Roud 478] is a ‘Jonah Ballad’, most recently resurrected by Lankum. Where theirs is nastily queasy, Carthy’s is full of pain. Once again entirely unaccompanied, she delivers with a power that most other singers can only dream of. You can’t help but wonder whether any male voice could get even remotely close to her as she sinks her teeth into “murderer”. If there is pain here then ‘The Trees They Do Grow High’ [Roud 31] is more yearning but no less powerful. From a bold young seaman to an older woman wrapped up in an arranged marriage, Carthy is adept at playing any character, is able to make them incredibly believable. She gives a voice to them that seems to fit perfectly, every nuance of emotion explored. That, I suppose, is what folk singing should be all about but, as you listen to this album, you realise that it seldom is. Carthy, and her dad, have recorded ‘The Trees Do Grow High’ before, of course, but she’s rarely done it as well.

The brilliant storytelling doesn’t ever let up. On Richard Thompson‘s ‘The Great Valerio’ (which Carthy performed to show-stopping effect at Thompson’s Royal Albert Hall celebration a few years ago), she is reflective and heroic. Where the protagonist “dances through the air”, so Carthy does, too. Gathering great lungs-full of air she pushes the story anywhere she wants it to go. She has complete mastery over her voice and, therefore, complete mastery over us too. The accent shines through again – “as ‘ee tumbles” – as does the raw power. On ‘Pulling Hard Against the Stream’ [Roud 1958], her voice rolls with the river, silvery and fluid, calming and threatening. Another live recording which scorches with immediacy, Carthy is a singer at the very top of her game.

No Wasted Joy seemed to appear out of the blue, just in time for the solo tour that Eliza Carthy is about to embark upon. If this is a taste of what we can expect from those dates, you should snap up tickets right now. It is as thrilling and visceral, as immediate and honest as folk music gets.

No Wasted Joy by Eliza Carthy is out now. It can be ordered via the artist’s Bandcamp page.