Isn't it irksome when a brand-new CD has a sticker on the front saying, "Featuring "Wildwood' and "Whole,'" as if these were the names of hit singles, even though you know there hasn't been a single song played on the radio? Worse is when the obvious single, the song that could easily be placed as the theme to a new WB drama and go straight up the charts, isn't even one of the songs listed on the sticker.
This is the fate of Angels & Cigarettes, the first major-label release by Eliza Carthy, daughter of famed English folk musicians Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy. If you're already a fan, this is the same Eliza Carthy you know and love. But Angels & Cigarettes is very much a pop recording, with drum machines and multitracking and fancy arrangements; Carthy may have learned her idiosyncratic sense of melody from the folk tradition, but that's just one influence this time around.
"Whispers of Summer" should be a smash. It's incredibly seductive, a whirling fiddle riff set against a loping bass line and a catchy drum-machine beat. Carthy, who sings in a rich, expressive alto, overdubs her vocals into a gorgeous chorus; imagine Sarah McLachlan crossed with Kirsty MacColl. As for the songs on the sticker, "Wildwood" is a perfectly lovely Paul Weller number, and "Whole" could fit neatly on the last Sade album, though the former contains greater emotional ambiguity. Carthy's band offers sensitive, consistently creative backing for her voice and tasteful occasional fiddle playing; she brings Dad along to add interesting (electric!) guitar parts on a couple of tracks and has hired Van Dyke Parks to do string arrangements. Angels & Cigarettes deserves to have a sticker advertising real hit singles.