Rusby is often at her best when tugging heartstrings and she does that on this highly personal set, all decorated by an inventive and effective collage of sounds.
Label: Pure Records
Time: 12 Tracks / 52 mins
A new release from Kate Rusby is always worth investigating. Barnsley’s best has a warmth to her voice that she often uses to sing up the hurting or the underdog (or here, an 'underhorse', as well as lost love and a man with Alzheimer’s).
This one – beautifully packaged with a generously-sized booklet – feels fresh. While she hasn’t lost the folkiness of the collection (five of the twelve tracks have traditional lyrics) her band and production have taken on a more contemporary feel. Discreet though it is, bassist Duncan Lyall plays Moog for half of the twelve, and there are credits for keys, synths and programming on top of that.
The glottal stops on “Jenny” – a track that appears twice in slightly different forms – sound a little self-conscious, but they work in the song.
Notable guests include Michael McGoldrick on flutes, Ross Ainslie on whistles, Sam Kelly on vocals and Alison Krauss band member Ron Block on banjo.
The blend of instrumentation (whistles, guitars, Moog and programming) works especially well on the classic Fairport Convention track “Crazy Man Michael” – a highlight – which is followed by an Oasis cover, Noel Gallagher’s “Don’t Go Away.” Inspired by a session she chose for Jo Wiley’s BBC show and played by just Rusby and husband-producer-guitarist Damien O’Kane, this one’s pathos brought her to tears in the studio.
O’Kane gets a similarly open feel to “The Wanderer,” which he then decorates with some beautifully ringing guitar. Another beauty is the tender “Until Morning,” which shows how a voice or two, a picked guitar and the most discreet backing can still a soul and raise goosebumps, when they let a lovely tune do its work.
Everything comes together well on “The Farmer’s Toast” – a song with a fluid melody that seems to have its own life, helped on by some natural rhymes (‘farmer’ and ‘alarmer’, anyone?) It probably also works so well because the song is a thank you to the Barr farming family, who host the singer’s annual Underneath the Stars folk-focused music and arts festival.
Closing the album is the highly poignant “Halt the Wagons,” which tells the story of the 1838 Husker Pit mining disaster. 26 children died – one of the boys only seven years old – when a freak storm stopped the lift working and their panic led them to a part of the mine that flooded when a stream burst its banks.
Here 26 children form a choir to underline the tragedy of the event and a brass band underscores the Yorkshire setting.
The whole project is a very satisfying hybrid of the traditional and singer-songwriter worlds and has Rusby’s unmistakeable mark right through it.