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The Waterson family

The Waterson family are the nearest thing that Britain has to a folk-song dynasty, although Norma and her daughter Eliza won’t thank anyone for saying so. Despite Gift being an intimate, mother and daughter affair (with various other Watersons popping in for the fun), it’s also an album about the community of song that they encapsulate so well.

There are 11 songs on Gift – mostly traditional ones – and both women take an equal part. Waterson’s voice is distinct, curling and capable of great swoops and sudden pauses; Carthy’s is smokier and just as lovely. The selection showcases the two talents well and they are never muffled by the small band of musicians that accompany them. There’s much here, from the jaunty – ‘Bonaparte’s Lament’ – to the tingling modal cadences of ‘The Rose and the Lily’. Their version of Amen Corner’s 1960s hit ‘(If Paradise Is) Half as Nice’ is there for the ride.

The cover photo – a close-up of Norma and Eliza holding hands – suggests strength, continuity and generosity. For anyone who’s had the privilege of seeing Norma Waterson sing, watch her hands: she literally hands over her songs to her listeners with a grace that defies belief. Sublime.


New Internationalist issue 435 magazine cover This article is from the September 2010 issue of New Internationalist.
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