Objectivity is rarely an option where the music of Kate Rusby is concerned. Since her deserving nomination as the ‘token folkie’ for the 1999 Mercury Music Prize, she has released album after album of exquisitely winsome, unsullied beauty, and this, her fifth, is no exception. In fact, if you’ve liked any of her previous releases, why read any further? Part with that cash! So sure-footed is she that to question the consistency of this album is to verge on the blasphemous. Rusby knows what she loves and what she does best, and by happy coincidence, enough people seem to agree wholeheartedly. Yet despite the unbroken, no repairs approach, there are enough clues here to make us aware that she’s still growing.
Though always a strong collaborative artist, most of Rusby’s pairings have been with artists themselves immersed in the British and American folk scenes, with the exception of Ocean Colour Scene’s Simon Fowler’s guest vocal on 2003′s Underneath The Stars. Here, not only has former Blur guitarist Graham Coxon provided the album artwork, but Roddy Woomble, lead singer with Scottish rockers Idlewild, improbably appears on no less than three tracks. As ever though, the most important collaborator is Rusby’s husband, John McCusker, an impressive multi-instrumentalist and member of The Battlefield Band. With an array of talented musicians, Rusby’s pure, endearing vocals are deftly backed by double bass, harmonium, euphonium, flutes and whistles, all serving to blur the distinction between the results of Rusby’s own evolving songwriting and those of a more traditional nature. So much so that it’s easy not to realise on first listen that seven of these songs are her own.
As is her wont, Rusby also throws a cover into the mix — previous albums have seen reinterpretations of Suzanne Vega’s ‘The Queen & The Soldier’, Richard and Linda Thompson’s ‘Withered & Died’ and ‘Old Town’ by Iris DeMent — and this time it’s not a great deal more leftfield. The jazz standard, ‘You Belong To Me’, has been recorded by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland to Tori Amos and Bob Dylan, and Rubsy does it justice in her own unflourished, mellow style. Elsewhere, ‘Bonnie House Of Airlie’ is a thundering blood feud epic based on the tale of ‘Bonnie’ Prince Charlie, ‘Game Of All Fours’ tells the engrossing tale of a high-stakes card game between a girl and boy, and ‘Wandering Soul’ is a rousing number reminiscent of ‘Canaan’s Land’ from Little Lights that was previously issued on the soundtrack to the BBC series, ‘Billy Connolly’s Musical Tour of New Zealand’. It should have you and anyone else in the vicinity singing along with gusto. Take it from me, the practice will come in useful should you ever see a Rusby live show – she’ll be right impressed!
One of the standout tracks, ‘A Ballad’, is a significant change in pace and subject, telling the story of a bride who discovers her cheating husband-to-be up to no good on the morning of their wedding. But rather than getting her parents to seek him out and clout him, as is the norm in English folk, she does herself in; cheerful it’s not, but unendingly gorgeous. And don’t worry, if that gets you down, the cute little hidden track, ‘Little Jack Frost’, is the pick-you-upper theme tune to the BBC’s adorable Christmas animation that lit up the schedules last year.
Is Rusby herself the girl afraid to fly? Certainly not musically, but apparently so in the flesh — the title was inspired by a conversation with a friend about a trip to the Maldives. So whilst it might take a hypnotist for that boduberu and Indian pot dance album to materialise, for now The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly simply reaffirms our faith well-placed in Rusby’s very special brand of Britishness.
[Pure; October 11, 2005]
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