Earlier in the year I was enthusing about Larkin Poe, the jaw-droppingly talented Lovell Sisters from Knoxville. Well, what do you know? Six months later along comes an album from the jaw-droppingly talented Carrivick Sisters (twins, I believe - is that a trump card against the Lovells?), and this time the girls are from our side of the pond, from South Devon, in fact. The headline is that this is fantastic work and I'd urge anyone to get hold of the album or take the chance to see them play - folk festivals, clubs and pubs across the country through the summer, including the big one at Cambridge.
Marrying English folksong to bluegrass instrumentation and style in a quite sublime manner, these girls write the songs, arrange them, sing them , play everything from fiddle to banjo, dobro to mandolin, and then sweetly give thanks and credit to producer Joe Rusby, for "doing just about everything". He has indeed done a wonderful job, because the sound is great throughout - whether it's the sparse sound of banjo and vocal on Charlotte Dymond , their very own English murder ballad, or the more expansively arranged When The Birds Start To Sing, a sweet song of romantic longing that features the great BJ Cole on pedal steel. These girls have a huge range of qualities at their disposal: a likely stage favourite is going to be the brilliantly light-hearted Today Is A Good Day . The girls sing close harmony, almost Andrews Sisters style, against a tune being picked as fast and light as Doc Watson at his best, and the whole thing bubbles along with a huge, contagious smile. It's a song about optimism being determined to succeed over mundane realities, even if just for one day, and I guess there's a kind of light self-mockery when the chorus breaks into a yodel each time round - " And the sun will shine though the sky is grey/ And the birds will sing Yodel-ay-ee-ee-tee" .
Laura and Charlotte are just 21 (heck, they look younger but that probably says more about my age) and have been playing professionally for four years already, releasing three cds along the way. I'll be fascinated to hear those albums at some point, but this new album is music of full maturity, capable of standing shoulder to shoulder with pretty much any album I've heard in the last few years. Of all the things that they do so well here, I reckon I'd pick out their singing as the absolute highlight. They share lead vocal duties and harmonise in turn with each other; it's pretty much a given that siblings seem to have a headstart when it comes to harmonising and these two do nothing to undermine that notion. However, it's the warmth, richness and Englishness of their voices, set against those bluegrass arrangements, that works so well. Charlotte's voice, in particular, carries an authority and assuredness that seems incredible in such a young performer.
It's quite remarkable to me how closely they mirror all the qualities that I enjoyed so much in Larkin Poe's work, and in particular the way both sets of sisters are possibly at a perfect moment where their skill is fully mature and yet the spark of fresh, youthful enthusiasm is still burning at its brightest. The bonus with the Carrivick Sisters is that they've made Devon sound like the very heartland of bluegrass.
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