The `nature vs. nurture’ debate rages over all human inclinations, from criminality to artistry. Are behaviors that lead to gallows or galleries learned or inherited? Recent recordings by sons and daughters suggest the answer, for musicians anyway, may be `both.’
Larry `Mud’ Morganfield sounds uncannily like his legendary father, Muddy Waters. Yet he swears he barely knew his Dad, and never labored over recordings of his classic Chicago blues to mimic his vocal strength. In an August NPR interview with Linda Wertheimer, Mud said he long rejected his seemingly natural knack for sounding like his Dad: “I ran from these blues a long time,” he said. “They just caught up with me, and here I am.” He claims his birthright in a stunning new album, For Pops: A Tribute to Muddy Waters (Severn Records). Muddy’s eldest son retools his Dad’s songs in musical settings that are authentic without winking at us and saying `retro.’ Morganfield’s major accomplice on the album, harmonica wizard Kim Wilson of Fabulous Thunderbirds fame, drew this distinction for NPR: “He’s got the same timbre his Dad had, but he’s doing his own thing. That’s one thing you have to realize about this record: It’s a tribute, but it’s not a knockoff.”
If `Mud’s’ music is his way of connecting with a distant father, Eliza Carthy has the luxury of making music with hers, as she has most of her 39 years. She’s the daughter of Martin Carthy, a key figure in the British folk revival, and Norma Waterson, a third of a trio of folk singing siblings, the Watersons. Martin and Eliza pool their considerable talents on a new album, their first as a duo, The Moral of the Elephant (Topic Records Ltd.). Most of its songs are traditional, and there’s an angular purity to its essentially `live’ music: vocals, fiddle and guitar, just what you’d get if you saw the duo in performance. Eliza has grown into a spectacular singer, and longtime fans of her Dad will smile at the resemblance her fiddling bears to that of Martin’s old foil, Dave Swarbrick. One of the album’s standouts is their interpretation of the arrangement of “Died for Love” by Eliza’s uncle, Mike Waterson (there’s a great performance of this on YouTube, along with a fascinating interview with Eliza and Martin about this album). It’s all in the family.
That’s how it’s been for generations among the Bhattacharyas of Bengal. Hindustani slide guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya reckons his teenaged daughter is the eighth generation of musicians in his family. In a recent online interview he says: “We have a kind of genetic disposition to salve people with music.” Daughter Anandi adds her voice to Dad’s singing guitar on Beyond the Ragasphere (Riverboat Records), a winning East-West blend.