Who ya gonna Cal? Kate Rusbers!
In her first album of all-new material since 2010, Rusby plays a set of traditional and original songs loosely themed around spectres. The tone, unsurprisingly, is atmospheric. The Yorkshire singer-songwriter brings together her own mellifluous singing with reverberant production values and instrumental arrangements underpinned by lush string textures. The results sometimes sound slick but there is, gratifyingly, far too much character here for this to be a vanilla album. Arrangements of traditional songs such as "Martin Said" and "Three Jolly fishermen" rise and fall on repeated vocal lines, supported by instrumental features that add extra spice. Some of Rusby's own tunes tend to meander , but her songwriting can be affecting too. The title-track is a heartbreaking ballad consisting of just solo vocal and piano, while Mike McGoldrick's fluent flute playing amplifies the Irish inflections of "We will Sing". Rusby has a talent for creating new settings for traditional stories, aided by guitarist Damien O'Kane, her husband and collaborator. Quiet and contemplative, "The Bonnie Bairns" beautifully conveys the spirit of the night alluded to in its lyrics.
Peterborough Today December 14
Everyone has voices that just hit that special spot - be it Liam Gallagher's rock 'n' roll whine or Bobby Womack's deep soul growl. When it comes to female voices there's Chrissie Hynde's rock chick to end all rock chick's drawl to the pumping R & B power of Aretha. And then there's Kate Rusby - a legend on the English folk scene but not too well known beyond that. But she possesses a beautifully pure voice that is smooth yet strong. On her new album, so named after the ghost that she says resides in her Yorkshire home, it takes centre stage once more. Her first new material since 2010 there are traditional songs as well as three new Rusby compositions. Co-produced with her husband and guitarist Damien O'Kane and despite some subtle electric guitars this is classic folk rock. Among the traditional songs are excellent interpretations of Three Jolly Fishermen and The Outlandish Knight. Surrounding herself with a group of accomplished musicians, including Ron Block on banjo and John Doyle on electric guitar, it is a high quality production from start to finish. As ever she creates an atmosphere of delicious melancholy, although there are a few rousing singalongs to add variety. The haunting Bonnie Bairns is a highlight as it is one of the new songs, the title track on which Kate's lovely voice is accompanied by a delicate piano.
The Telegraph November 14
Kate Rusby has always delivered wonderful interpretations of traditional folk songs and that does not change on her 2014 album Ghost, which includes versions of Three Jolly Fishermen, The Outlandish Knight and Martin Said.
But there is something different about Ghost, on which her husband and guitarist Damien O'Kane acts as co-producer. The album has a pleasing freshness, and part of that is down to the way they have blended in the electric guitar playing of Stevie Iveson. But folk music isn't jettisoned here by Rusby; it's just brought together in a subtle, textured way, as on the delightful The Bonnie Bains. That tracks also features Duncan Lyall on double bass and the superb Michael McGoldrick on flute. Among the other accomplished musicians on Ghost are Julian Sutton and Nick Cooke (accordion), John Doyle (guitar), Ron Block and Leon Hunt (banjo) and Rex Preston (mandolin).
There are three original Rusby compositions on the album: After This (a love song partly inspired by the Cornish coastline), We Will Sing and Ghost, written about the (appropriate) folk ghost Rusby says lives in her Yorkshire home. On the title track her voice, accompanied only by her delicate piano playing, can really show its haunting power.
Rusby, who will be starting her usual enjoyable Christmas tour in December, has delivered another lovely gift with Ghost.
Q Magazine November 14
Kate Rusby has one of the most affecting voices in British folk - sharp and sweet and Northern, with an inflection that does not quite belong to these times. This album is her 13th (including two Christmas albums) and a pleasing mingling of traditional songs and Rusby's own compositions, written both alone and with her fellow musician (and husband) Damien O'Kane. It's a familiar, pastoral setting of May flowers, pale lilies and yew trees, hares, hounds, thieves, bairns, jolly fishermen and the importance of no longer tarrying. Musically, it's recognisable territory too - electric guitar, strings, banjo, accordion, flute. It's a rich and merry scene, but there are times you yearn to hear that voice unadorned, less crowded by instrumentation - particularly on tracks such as I Am Sad and Ghost, which seem to long for spine-chilling spareness.
R2 Magazine November 14
Were I the type of reviewer who glories in finding fault and who scours each release for imperfections I would find slip pickings here. There isn't an ill-delivered note to be had front to back, and Kate Rusby's distinctive vocals are beyond any form of reproach. The overarching mood of the record is lush, melancholic and expansive though there are occasional moments of punctuation, such as the bouncing bob and weave of 'Three Jolly Fishermen'. Featuring a cast of collaborators that has by and large, worked with her before, the playing manages to be both present and unobtrusive, just one of a number of instrumental balancing acts that are pulled off, like the pull and push between the traditional Irishness of Michael McGoldrick's flute and the baroque quiver and pulse of Donald Grand's string arrangements.
The Northern Echo November 14
With a cover featuring Rusby in a white dress in half-shadow, the album's full of string-laden melodies that will haunt you long afterwards.
The opener, The Outlandish Knight, is an accordion-accompanied traditional folk ballad (arranged by Rusby and husband Damien O'Kane) about a lady fair getting revenge for six drowned maidens, while The Youthful Boy tells of "a false-hearted lover", and The Bonnie Bairns is a ghost story, whose sorrowful lines are echoed mournfully by a flute and violin.
The Magic Penny is a stand-out in an album of stand-outs, a traditional yarn about a gambler with an incredible run of luck, while the title track tells of a lost love. She's simply an extraordinary talent.
Folking.com November 14
An album by unquestionably my favourite female voice in contemporary folk (it’s those homely, but somehow also sexy Barnsley vowels) and a version of ‘Martin Said’, the song that first introduced me to folk music – Christmas has definitely come early.
Working, as ever, with guitarist husband Damien O’Kane and variously joined by Michael McGoldrick on whistles and flute, double bassist Duncan Lyall, bouzouki player Steven Byrnes, accordionists Nick Cooke and Julian Sutton, electric guitarist Steven Iveson and Rex Preston on mandolin with Union Station’s Ron Block providing banjo, not to mention the occasional string quartet, Rusby’s 12th
studio recording is also her first all new material in four years, Unlike Make The Light
, however, there’s only three self-penned tracks here, the rest being arrangements of traditional numbers.
One such opens proceedings in the shape of her take on the familiar Child Ballad, ‘The Outlandish Knight’, the unease in the lyrics about a maiden getting the better of her murderous suitor underscored by guitar drone and haunting diatonic accordion. It’s traditional again for the second track, ‘The Youthful Boy’, another false heart tale as, her lover having gone off to sea, the abandoned woman declares she’ll not mourn his death, Block’s banjo dappling notes around Rusby’s airy tones.
Buoyed up by accordion, the first original is ‘We Will Sing’, a sprightly contribution to the canon of songs celebrating May and spring’s renewal while its two companions are the liltingly lovely, melody cascading ‘After This’ with its affirmation of the healing power of song and the rather darker title track album closer, a somewhat gothic tale of a departed lover’s brief haunting visits (reflected in the booklets artwork) played out with just voice and piano.
It’s a theme mirrored to implied or overt extent in two of the album’s traditional numbers, the gently wistful ‘Night Visit’, set to a tune by Tony Cuffe, where a man braves the ‘roaring tempest’ for a night of passion with his lover, and the suitably subdued air of ‘The Bonnie Bairns’, where a lady encounters two mysterious children who lead her deep into the woods to deliver new of her lover’s fate.
Heartbreak weighs heavy too on ‘I Am Sad’’s acoustic melancholic lament of blighted love, but you’ll be pleased to know that it’s not all doom and gloom, with the remaining traditional contributions including a spiritedly upbeat ‘Three Jolly Fishermen’, the electric guitar (courtesy of Doyle) and accordion refrain friendly swayalong ‘The Magic Penny’ and, with McGoldrick on whistles, ‘Silly Old Man’, another tale of coming good financially as the titular protagonist turns the tables on the thief who tries to rob him. As R. Dean Taylor once said, there’s a Ghost in my house. There really should be one in yours, too.
Scottish Daily Express November 14
Blessed with a voice that echoes pure, haunting melancholia, the Yorkshire lass has enlisted the help of hubby Damien O'Kane as a co-producer on her first new album for three years. As well as the sad songs, there are a clutch of toe-tappers with catchy choruses in a mixture of adapted traditional airs and Rusby originals. Donald Grant's string arrangements are superb on tracts like the haunting Bonnie Bairns and the jaunty Three Jolly Fishermen, Michael McGoldrick's whistles and flutes, as usual, give her tunes an Irish lilt - but Kate's vocal is at its very best on the title track, accompanying herself on piano.
Financial Times November 14
Kate Rusby's first proper album in years sees a return to songwriting amid arrangements of traditional tunes (outlandish knights jostle with duped highwaymen, jollyfishermen, bonny bairns and a magic penny). Underneath Rusby's clear voice, accordions, hum and whistles breathe, apart from the title track where she accompanies herself on piano in a slow ballad of bereavement and grief.
Guitar and Bass November 14
The darling of the British folk scene returns with a sublime collection of original trad-style tunes rich in narrative, atmosphere and fine musicianship
Irish Post October 14
Award-winning singer/songwriter/musician Kate Rusby has a new album out at last. This is the Barnsley woman's first new album of all-original material since 2010 and a fine production it is.
Jointly produced by Kate and her musician husband Damien O'Kane from Coleraine, Co Derry, it features 12 tracks of traditional airs and Rusby originals superbly recorded with a bunch of top class musicians.
Considering that the various musicians contributing including, for example, Ron Block (Alison Krauss), Damien O'Kane, Michael McGoldrick, Nick Cooke, John Doyle and Steven Byrnes among others the accompaniment is never over-cooked. Tasteful and subtle arrangements enhance the vocals rather than dominate and the title "Ghost" somehow seems apt as the album has a haunting timeless feel to it, due in no small part to McGoldrick's flutes and whistles which, at times, give it a nice Celtic mood and flavour.
Despite all the different musicians contributing there is a lovely consistency to the album and it flows nicely throughout. There are some lovely little five-string banjo touches that can almost touch on Americana and you get the impression that Kate and Damien had a vision of what they wanted to achieve and I would say they succeeded admirably.
Overall it's a smashing album that can only enhance Kate Rusby's already lofty position in the folk world. Having just finished her Autumn tour she will take some time off before starting her Christmas tour.
Folk Radio October 14
is the first all new Kate Rusby album since 2010 and the release of Make The Light
, which in itself was unusual in comprising all original songs written by Kate. But she’s been anything but idle since that release. There is the not so small matter of 20
, an album released in 2012 to celebrate the appropriate landmark in her recording career, with songs plucked from the breadth of that 20 years, all re-recorded with a quite astonishing guest list. The recording plans sparked Island Records to revive its legendary pink label, which adhered to the centre of vinyl albums released in the late 60s and early 70s, including key releases by folk greats such as Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, John & Beverley Martyn and others. While the guests who enthusiastically lined up with her probably helped to seal the deal, the release rightly marked Kate’s own status amongst the current crop of the biggest names in folk music and with Island’s marketing support, the album charted at number 22. There has also been a second Christmas album, While Mortals Sleep
, which follows on from Sweet Bells
, continuing Kate’s interest in the carolling tradition of Yorkshire, with seasonal singing sessions organised in pubs and other secular, communal settings. Finally, there is a DVD of Christmas songs, but we’ll perhaps return to this later in the year.
In the meantime, on a personal level Kate now has a young family, with two young children and is married to artist and musician Damien O’Kane
, whom naturally enough, she has worked with closely over these releases. Whilst the challenges of balancing the needs and demands of small children with life as a working musician can’t be easy, it’s joyful to hear that the family are enjoying music together, which she confirmed in her interview with FRUK back in 2012
, carrying on the tradition Kate enjoyed herself as a child. Family is clearly important, combining with a strong grasp of her Yorkshire roots to keep Kate grounded in this often ephemeral world of music making.
For the making of 20
Kate got to work with some of her own heroes and modestly described the need to pinch herself while in the studio, lest it all turned out to be a dream. In truth however she has long been able to muster some outstanding musical talent to help flesh out her recordings. They recognise in Kate a kindred spirit and also a unique talent, as one of the most outstanding voices to grace these last 20 odd years, regardless of genre.
It’s reflected in a Mercury prize nomination, which even if you take the broadest definition of the folk is a rarity. If you take only those who work in and around the folksong tradition, then the 23 year history of the award can be whittled back to a bare handful of singers that fit the bill, further underlining Kate’s rare quality. More frequent recognition has naturally come through the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, with regular nominations and a clutch of triumphs to Kate’s name.
Whilst such recognition is doubtless good, it’s hardly an empirical measure of her career. You get closer to that with the consistent relationship that Kate has enjoyed with her audience, regularly touring and filling sizeable venues. Regretfully, within the folk world, that puts her amongst an elite almost as rarefied as the Mercury prize list. For the many thousands who connect to her exceptional voice and songcraft, such things are of course of little concern and that relationship has been reaffirmed time and time again, in many cases all the way back to Kate’s breakthrough duet with Kathryn Roberts released in 1995. Kate is an astonishingly consistent class act and Ghost
is further proof of that.
The album is produced by both Kate and Damien, who naturally also contribute instrumentally, with Kate on guitar, but also piano on the title track, and Damien adding, guitar, tenor guitar and banjo. Michael McGoldrick, who has worked with Kate down the years provides flute and whistle and Duncan Lyle is on bass as required. Steven Byrnes adds bouzouki and tenor guitar, with accordion duties shared between Nick Cooke and Julian Sutton and electric guitar from both John Doyle and Steven Iveson. There’s room too for Union Station’s Ron Block to add a touch of banjo and Rex Preston on Mandolin. Finally, there’s a string quartet with some fine arrangements by Donald Grant.
As described above the last album of new material concentrated on Kate’s own songs, inspired to some extent by the work she had done sound tracking Jennifer Saunders TV series, Jam And Jerusalem
. There are three Kate originals here, but mostly she slips into and around the tradition, arranging, tweaking and adding tunes as she goes much as has been done before, keeping the folk process rolling along.
One of the immediate things that strikes you is the attention to detail in the recording. The Outlandish Knight
is a familiar enough Child Ballad, and also one of the oldest and most widespread folk tales going. With equivalents all over Europe, especially Scandinavia and Germany the story of the young, fair maiden outwitting a false suitor, who tries to drown her, possibly has origins in the myths of water sprites and faerie lords. It’s worth noting, however, that outlandish in this case means from the outlands or across the border, so it comes laced with an element of mistrust of foreign soii and the political marriage. Kate and Damien’s arrangement is mistily atmospheric, with Steven Iveson’s electric guitar adding a strange drone through the verse. There are pulses of echo lurking in the mix, as the accordion and strings lock into a spiralling melody that adds considerably to the drama. Even the last few seconds of the track oscillate into the ether, as if the living spirit of the would be tormentor is banished.
It sets up the intro of The Youthful Boy
, which manages to sound both richly textured and gossamer light with Kate’s airy tones. There’s some beautiful guitar work from Iveson again, but this time adding inventive melodic filigrees that drift and glide around Kates voice and acoustic guitar work from Damien, with Ron Block’s banjo finding a perfect place within the soundstage, and the accordion adding a gentle swell. It’s one of two traditional songs about the iniquities of love, the other is the mournful I Am Sad
, which is as melancholic as its title suggests, although it is even more simply arranged with just Kate’s gorgeous voice draped in velvety splendour over twin tenor guitars, as they pick an interlaced, syncopated course around the tune.
Two of Kate’s own songs seem to be caught between loves favours and fortunes. We Will Sing
has a Celtic air and a merry gait as lines like, “And those in love can sing at last,” chime with a sense of the renewal of the spring season. After This
is also about healing, albeit the bittersweet journey that has just begun, with just a hint of defiance in lines like, “Broken seems a solemn bird, but when she sings she’s always heard.”
Not everything is so downcast, however, and there are some delightful traditional arrangements like the jaunty Three Jolly Fishermen
, with its rippling banjo and nicely contrasting string arrangement. The rhythmic interplay between guitar, bass and bouzouki on the drunkard’s folly Martin Said
is quite brilliant, with the accordion adding a nice woozy swagger and sway. The Magic Penny
and Silly Old Man
both see the main protagonist get the better of their financial situation. The first features a lovely languid guitar line from John Doyle and the latter is driven along by banjo and acoustic guitar, with whistles and accordion adding delicious highlights, as the supposed fool turns the tables on a robber and makes off his ill gotten gains.
The Night Visit
is simply gorgeous taking a tune from Scottish singer / guitarist Tony Cuffe that stretches the very fabric of the song, enhancing the sense of longing. Night visits are a common theme in folk and although it’s not explicit here, they are often the ghosts of lovers returning for a last night of passion. Of less doubt is The Bonnie Bairns
who a lady encounters while walking in the woods. The two children lead her deeper into the trees and brambles and when she enquires where they are leading, they confess, “We live where woe it never comes, in a land to flesh unknown.” They bring her a message from beyond the grave as the sumptuous arrangement charts an elegiac course through the unfolding tragedy, as it carries the weight of their burden. That just leaves the closing title track and original composition Ghost
, simply set, but beautifully recorded with just Kate and her piano. Heavy with a reverb and occasional otherworldly, ghostly interjections and harmonic embellishments, it’s a poignant finale that’s none the worse for its spare yet tender arrangement.
This is the perfect companion for the gathering autumn evenings, an album of luxuriant texture, charm and finesse that leads the clear narratives of the songs through a simply gorgeous set of tunes. So, plug this Ghost
into the machine, let Kate be your guide and surrender to the mysteries and whispers of the other world contained therein. As the CD unfolds with a slow, supernatural grace, echoing and lingering long after the final chord, rebounding from ages past to futures unknown, with our tears and triumphs and all the emotional resonance of our complex little lives, it proves a beautiful, life enriching place to spend an hour of your here and now.
The York Press Sept 14
APTLY for a record called Ghost, Barnsley folk song thrush Kate Rusby's new album has rather ghosted in under the radar.
It was launched at Kate's inaugural Underneath Stars Festival at Cannon Hall Farm in South Yorkshire and the Cambridge Folk Festival, then made available through the Rusby family empire's Pure Records website and digitally. Its general release followed on August 4, without the customary raft of reviews in the national press. Yes, the media has had its eye almost solely on another Kate, the unexpected second coming of Kate Bush, but Rusby usually gains plenty of column inches.
What's more, Ghost is a landmark album in a career that stretches to more than 20 years now. Kate unquestionably lost a key component when John McCusker took his fiddle and flute elsewhere and it has taken a while for the need to stretch out musically – a demand made almost monotonously from this parish – to be met by Kate and her musician husband Damien O'Kane.
Jointly occupying the producer's seat (a delicate balancing act no doubt), they have overseen a subtle shift in the Rusby template. Acoustic folk on accordion, banjo, bouzouki, double bass and guitar is still her default position for 12 traditional airs and Rusby originals, but "sonically the album heralds points of departure" on her first all-original studio set since 2010.
This is not to suggest Kate has had her "Judas" moment and done a Dylan by converting to electricity, and nor will she ever be boundary-breaking in the manner of Kate Bush, but Ghost does present a "fresh new sound that experiments with effects and electric guitar sounds”. This is most apparent on the stand-out opener The Outlandish Knight , with its echoes, and the ghost song Bonnie Bairns.
Elsewhere, Kate is on more familiar ground, switching between sad (The Youthful Boy, I Am Sad, The Night Visit, After This) and the jaunty (We Will Sing, Three Jolly Fishermen, Martin Said, Silly Old Man); story-telling songs, often in the language of the great songbooks, often of acts of folly .
The game-changer, however, is Kate accompanying herself on piano on the closing title track. More please.
The Mouth Magazine Aug 14
Fatea Records On Line Magazine Sept 14
Ghost is trailed as "Kate's first album of all-original material since 2010", a claim which if taken in the purely literal sense is a touch misleading, since only three of its dozen songs are entirely (both words and music) written by Kate herself - the remainder either using, or being largely based on, or comprising Kate's arrangements of (and/or tunes for), traditional words, with one track, The Night Visit, employing Tony Cuffe's melody - the one usually associated with When I First Came To Caledonia - with the traditional text).
Having got the nit-picking of that semantic conundrum out of the way at the outset, let me say that this is a wholly delightful album, which at one and the same time conforms to the expected aural picture of a typical Kate Rusby record and yet breaks new ground with the imaginative (and sometimes unexpectedly spare) nature of its musical settings and thus in the increased satisfaction the attentive listener is able to derive from the experience. Taking the disc's true original compositions first, After This is a chimingly defiant beacon of hope, Ghost itself a deftly imagined, if quite desolate, vox-and-piano Lied, and We Will Sing a liltsome little seasonal (coming of spring) ditty inspired by tradition. But the album's emotional core is most likely to be considered the forlorn I Am Sad, a masterfully simple poetic evocation (which, I discover to my surprise, is credited as traditional); here, Kate's voice is fondly cradled and caressed within some particularly lovely, and beautifully complementary, tenor guitar traceries from Damien O'Kane and Steven Byrnes.
The remaining traditional items fall into two stools: ballads and altogether lighter material. Kate once again proves herself an adept exponent of both, with her vocal charm and irresistible personality enabling her to get the songs' messages across with absolute conviction; close attention to the dynamic shadings of her voice will be amply rewarded and should silence those perennial detractors who continually charge her with overly prettified singing. Listen - for there are indeed darker overtones too… The ballads are invariably given lilting (even slightly wistful) musical settings whose arrangement may be thought by some to belie the depth and subtlety in Kate's interpretations, although the extra care lavished on the backing, emphasising the narrative drive of each song, is evident in an increased (though happily not clinical) internal clarification of, and accentuation on, the finer details within (of which they are many). The incorporation of a string section on several songs is carried out with taste and restraint by Donald Grant (notably so on standout tracks The Outlandish Knight and The Bonnie Bairns), and some chuckling, rollicking banjo work from guests Ron Block and Leon Hunt adds both drive and character to The Youthful Boy and Three Jolly Fishermen respectively. It could be argued that Martin Said (aka Who's The Fool Now) is no more than a crowd-friendly, jaunty filler, but it has its place, along with Three Jolly Fishermen (and for that matter The Magic Penny), as a pleasing enough interlude in the programme. Kate's hands-on approach (she co-produced the album with Damien) involves much more than stamping her personal interpretation on the songs, for she's also skilled in drawing other talented players from a common pool to achieve this - here, John Doyle and Steven Iveson (electric guitars), Mike McGoldrick (flutes and whistles), Duncan Lyall (double bass), Steven Byrnes (bouzouki), Julian Sutton & Nick Cooke (diatonic accordions), among others, add further delectable colourings to the mix.
With Ghost, Kate has triumphed in giving us another fine album, one that consolidates her interpretive versatility on a telling sequence of songs that (as ever) is both persuasively delivered and beautifully recorded.
THIS IS WHAT IT MUST HAVE BEEN LIKE AT NEWPORT, 1965, ONLY MAGNIFIED BY A LOOKING GLASS THE SIZE OF YORKSHIRE. PUT DOWN YOUR FLAGON OF MEAD AND PREPARE FOR A SHOCK. KATE RUSBY’S NEW ALBUM – GHOST (RELEASED THIS WEEK) – SEES ‘THE BARNSLEY NIGHTINGALE’ RIP HER OWN RULE BOOK TO SHREDS, TEARING UP THE TASTEFUL FOLK SOUND FOR SOMETHING DARK AND DANGEROUS.
Vocal cut-ups collide over wig-spinning everything-and-the-kitchen-sink beats. Electric guitars flame up and roar in a way that would have a frightened My Bloody Valentine asking for their mums, and their mums asking for their mums. Bass plunges to previously unfathomed bone-liquidising depths. If you can possibly imagine Foo Fighters playing at the same time as The Prodigy playing at the same time as a band made up of every member of The Fall (ever) and every member of The Polyphonic Spree (ever), all expressing themselves through the medium of interpretive air-raid three counties away, but with such intensity you’d swear they were dropping bombs inside every cell of your being (and from a sound system so vast Malcolm Tucker would have to move out of the TARDIS to leave room for the noise), then – hey! – congratulations. You’re just under a third of the way there…
Of course, it’s not like that at all. Why would it be? Why would anyone imagine Kate Rusby might radically alter what it is she goes about or the way she goes about it? GHOST (incredibly, her fourteenth album since 1995) does use production to draw ears to a different side of the music but, despite that freshening, it’s more-or-less as expected and that’s no bad thing. Steady away. Over the years her gentle conservatism (caution, even – successive releases bringing only a slight refinement of a tried-and-trusted formula) has been comforting. See Kate Rusby’s particular area of folk music as a neat corner of National Trust estate, if you like. A Northern field with really good facilities. A hectare of pastoral calm protected and maintained by a dedicated enthusiast raised on the land, producing a roughly biennial crop. Let’s call it the Contemporary Crossover. Sure, occasionally you might get the Mumford family going on holiday by mistake, tearing up from the smoke with Sons in the back of the Chelsea tractor and pitching a tent in the next field, before returning home with a box of authentic farm eggs for Grandma to suck. Sometimes, on the way to fight a / the / any good fight, Billy Bragg and his band of Merry Men stop off just down the lane for sustenance and an overnight sack out. That There Paul Weller once rented a cottage nearby when he got fed up with his pad somewhere in the city. So how ridiculous – hideous – would it be if Kate Rusby suddenly built a shoe-box estate and a shopping complex on her patch? As I People-Carriered Out? Here We Come A-Halfpricesaleing? Jolly Barista Boys? No, thank you…
Co-produced with husband Damien O’Kane and engineered by brother Joe (who has the wonderful knack of positioning his sister in the mix so she sings right in your ear) GHOST is immediately recognisable, though it continues the O’Kane-influenced stealth shift into looser, sometimes darker, arrangements begun on parts of MAKE THE LIGHT in 2010 and then furthered by 2012’s celebratory collection of rerecordings, TWENTY. Things tend to have a little more dust in the air around them, which subtly affects but doesn’t change the familiar mix of ancient murder ballads, ghost stories and tragedies of the heart.
Opening with an interpretation of THE OUTLANDISH KNIGHT is a mischievous surprise. Bleak and sinister (basically Nick Cave’s WHERE THE WILD ROSES GROW if performed three centuries ago), brooding strings spread like mist on the water as a grim serial killer finally gets his comeuppance. Breezy WE WILL SING is a spring-to-summer delight – Julian Sutton’s accordion bouncing right through banjo from guest Ron Block (who first came into the fold on TWENTY and has also recorded with Dolly Parton and Alison Krauss). THREE JOLLY FISHERMAN pulls on an Arran jumper and casts a net around a certain section of Rusby’s crowd – this is one for real ale drinking middle-aged anglers to soundtrack their catches. Blokeish pursuits also feature in THE MAGIC PENNY (a skint soldier gambles on dice and ends the night rolling drunk), and money figures again in the comedic THE SILLY OLD MAN.
I AM SAD (first heard as an ‘in session’ extra on the LIVE IN LEEDS DVD ten years ago, but remaining unrecorded until now) finally sees the light of day – or, rather, the murk of depressed days. Hopeful AFTER THIS could be heard as a wedding song, with a simple chorus about bells ringing and the verses having all faith in the future (though it also seems to reference THE MOCKING BIRD from MAKE THE LIGHT). Becoming a mother twice over in recent times suggests something far happier than THE BONNIE BAIRNS turns out to be. It’s amongst the saddest of Rusby’s ghost stories, and Steven Iverson’s beautiful minstrel-like electric guitar phrases lend it a distant medieval air – a reminder that being dead lasts for a long time. The album closes on its title track, with subtle effects ghosting quietly as Rusby performs solo at the piano. In a way that suggests a full circle or closure of some sort as, of course, solo at a piano is how she began two decades ago…
Whether it turns out to be the end of something or the start of something else, or even just some more of the middle, GHOST is a fine record. The production touches mean it takes marginally longer to settle in but, like all of her previous work, it will find great favour with audiences of both BBC6 Music (Mark Radcliffe is a particular advocate) and Radio 2 which, in itself, is quite some feat for a modest lass from Barnsley. Sleep sound in your beds; Kate Rusby is still tending her piece of land with the utmost care.