The emergence of British folk singer Eliza Carthy marks the latest attempt to transform a female singer from indie ingenue to mainstream mama. Critically acclaimed for her creative fusion of folk, medieval and modern music, Carthy's recipe for her major label debut, Angels and Cigarettes, feels more formulaic than forward-looking.
Mix Fiona Apple's exposed and melancholy lyrics with Sinead O'Connor's vocal dynamics, adding Sarah McLachlan-esque harmonies. Stir in the memory of '80s easy-listening queen (and fellow Brit) Basia. Toss in a dash of Dar Williams, a speck of Suzanne Vega, a hint of Kristin Hersh. And of course, serve with a legendary female folkie-Joan Baez (they have been touring together this past year).
Angels and Cigarettes is like a musical identity crisis, too laconic and cheesy for progressive rock, too many marching-band drum beats for the smooth hits stations. What rescues many of Carthy's songs is her fiddle, inserting a breath of haunting, invigorating air into otherwise derivative songs.
Carthy's voice has the quality of cashmere-lush and soft, but sometimes thin. While full of emotion, it fails to convey the irony and bittersweet ruminations loaded throughout the CD: As she laments, "I've given blow jobs on couches to men who didn't want me anymore..." backed by a delicate harp and 25-piece string section, Carthy comes across more whiny victim than winking vixen.
In short, Carthy's songs sound a bit like everybody else, without conveying her personal essence. Her songs feel like you've heard them all before-which is great if you enjoy a willowy alto waxing poetic about love, life and longing.
Though Angels and Cigarettes attempts a delicious blend, the final dish is rather bland.
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