by Mitch Myers
Among influential English guitarists such as Richard Thompson, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, Martin Carthy is an icon who first injected traditional elements into the contemporary folk milieu 40 years ago. His version of "Scarborough Fair" predated Simon and Garfunkels interpretation by three years and theres little doubt where Rhymin Simon procured the arrangement for his million-selling hit. As a member of Steeleye Span, the Albion Band and the Watersons all during the 70s Carthy solidified his reputation as a premier representative of the British folk movement. On Signs of Life, he performs a variety of compositions that have somehow touched him personally, gracefully singing songs by the likes of Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan amid a variety of old British traditionals. In plain voice and with a guitar style that embraces melody, harmony and basslines simultaneously, Carthy carries a strong sense of history.
Accompanied by his daughter Eliza on fiddle, his cover of the Bee Gees "New York Mining Disaster 1941" sounds as if it could have been performed a half-century ago. "Heartbreak Hotel" is the first song Carthy ever learned to play from a phonograph record and his version here is wryly entertaining and slyly nostalgic. The cover of Hoagy Carmichaels "Hong Kong Blues" is a smooth, lucid and rollicking tune, while his powerful performance of Dylans "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" makes clear that Carthy is still a dyed-in-the-wool folkie. If youre looking to hear folk music straight from the source, Martin Carthys the man.