Few folk singers bring traditional song alive in the way Kate Rusby does. Her casual, intimate manner -- and the fact that she often adds her own tunes to the old words -- has a marvelous contemporary edge. There's not an ounce of affectation in her, which comes across more and more in each successive album. She's equally good on humorous pieces like "Goodman," sad songs like "Cruel," and those in between like "Let Me Be," where the chorus of "la la las" transforms it into a lovely pop song. Her performances are relaxed and unhurried, bringing out the melodic essence of each piece, and the arrangements for an acoustic band (all of whom are sensitive and sympathetic to the material) nothing less than spectacular in their simplicity. And when she takes on the sly con story of "The Blind Harper," recorded in a definitive version by the great Nic Jones, she really shows how skillful she is. The whistle part transforms everything, and the rhythmic sense is unerring. But while Rusby is best known as an interpreter of traditional songs, she's becoming a better and better writer, too. The second half of the disc comprises (all but one of) her originals -- a daring move, putting them together, rather than interspersing them. However, it works -- she's reached the level where the joints between her songs and the traditional tunes are seamless. "Young James" could easily be a couple of centuries old, and the same is true of "Polly." The stories she tells are timeless, and she finds the heart of truth and emotion that lie at the center of them. Excellent as all of this is, the centerpiece remains the title cut, which is firmly fixed at the end of the disc, a song of leaving that's gently touching, filled out by a brass band -- a gentle nod to Rusby's south Yorkshire roots. She defined what she did well on her first solo album. Since then she's been refining it, and herself, until this unquestionably stands as her best, and each new record becomes an event.
Underneath the Stars Review
by Chris Nickson