Slipcue.Com Celtic & UK Folk Guide

England's Yorkshire-born vocalist Kate Rusby is, quite simply, one of the finest performers in the English folk scene of the 1990s and '00s... Possessed of a gorgeous voice, a wonderful accent, and flawless taste in her repertoire and arrangements, Rusby is one of the most enjoyable, delectable artists of recent years. Once you get into her, you'll be hooked. Here's a quick look at her work...




Discography

Kate Rusby & Kathryn Roberts "Kate Rusby & Kathryn Roberts" (Pure/Compass, 1995/1999)
(Produced by John McCusker)

Lovely, though slightly florid, English and Celtic ballads. There are parts of this album that are a little too sugary for my tastes, but at essesnce this is a very solid album, with a strong mix of classic and contemporary material. Rusby's voice is, as ever, quite beautiful... Roberts has a deeper, more solemn voice, quite similar to June Tabor's. (High praise, indeed!) If you're already leaning towards the modernized end of the trad-folk spectrum, then this album should be a real delight.


The Poozies "Infinite Blue" (Pure/Compass, 1998)
An all-gal powerhouse ensemble of young Celtic trad artists, including harpists Mary McMaster and Patsy Seddon (of Sileas), Scottish vocalist Kate Rusby and accordeon whiz Karen Tweed. This is a wildly popular album; it helps if you like your trad sweetened with harps and fanciful melodic twists. Modernized, but not synthetic, this offers a nice middleground for purists and New Agers to meet.


Kate Rusby "Hourglass" (Pure/Compass, 1997/1998)
(Produced by John McCusker)

A jaw-droppingly gorgeous Celtic trad album, featuring the sugary-silken vocals of Yorkshire, England's Kate Rusby, who rightfully took her place as one of the preeeminent ballad singers of her generation, following the release of this album in the mid-1990s. The musical accompaniment matches her vocals in its sweetness and lush textures... Her longtime partner, Battlefield Band fiddler John McCusker, helps to sculpt this album's sound... It's a partnership that would prove equally rich and enthralling in years to come. Highly recommended!


Kate Rusby "Sleepless" (Pure/Compass, 1999)
(Produced by John McCusker)

An absolutely enchanting album by this rising star on the UK trad scene. Produced by Rusby's boyfriend, Scottish fiddle player John McCusker of the renowned Battlefield Band, this album strikes a perfect balance between traditional sensibilities and the slick style favored by many modern Celtic music fans. Rusby's voice is simply gorgeous, a pleasure to hear throughout the length of the album. Just as striking is her strength as a composer and arranger -- about half this album is traditional material, the other half is stuff Rusby wrote herself, and the two are nearly indistinguishable. She has a golden ear for the material. No instrumentals, just lovely ballads, and hence also no jarring transitions between shrill dance tunes and the songs with vocals. If you're looking for a mellow Celtic folk album you can listen to from start to finish, then this makes a mighty fine choice.


Kate Rusby "Little Lights" (Pure/Compass, 2001)
(Produced by John McCusker)

Improbably, Rusby's voice just keeps getting lovelier and more commanding, as this mellow set of beautiful ballads amply proves. It seems ridiculous, after a certain point, to praise Rusby's work, since it all sounds so sweet. Battlefield's fiddler, John McCusker remains on board as bandmember and co-producer, and their collaborations sound increasingly effortless and relaxed. This is one of Rusby's best albums, full of great original tunes and adaptations of traditional material, as well as a well-chosen Richard Thompson cover. One of the album's oddest inclusions is a curiously doleful version of the normally-bouncy old-time gospel tune "Where The Soul Never Dies" (here listed as "O Canaan"), in a slower arrangement which highlights the somewhat static pacing of this album as a whole. But even with a certain sameness from song to song, (and from album to album) this is an outstanding record, very pleasant and well worth checking out. You'd be hard pressed to find anything nicer to listen to... be it from Edinburgh or anywhere else.


Kate Rusby "Underneath The Stars" (Compass, 2003)
(Produced by John McCusker)


Kate Rusby "10" (Compass, 2003)
(Produced by John McCusker)

Another gorgeous set of richly-arranged Celtic folk ballads from this rising trad-folk star. By the time this best-of set came out, Rusby's longtime partner John McCusker had quit his day job as fiddler in the Battlefield Band to devote himself full-time to working with Rusby; his work on fiddle, piano and cittern ably complement her vocals, although really the show is all hers. This album collects or refashions several of her best-known songs... and they are all quite lovely! Rusby has a simply gorgeous voice, one of the best in the global acoustic music scene. Recommended!


Kate Rusby & John McCusker "Heartlands" (Soundtrack) (Pure, 2003)
(Produced by John McCusker)

A split album, with a collection of previously released vocal numbers highlighting Rusby's angelic voice, along with new instrumental compositions from her then-husband, fiddler John McCusker. Apparently they also perform a couple of numbers onscreen in the film itself, although I'm not sure if those songs are included here.


Kate Rusby "Live From Leeds" (Pure/Compass, 2004)
A must-have for all Kate Rusby fans. This beautifully-produced concert video is a real winner, showcasing Rusby and her band at their best, before an adoring, appreciative English audience. Several things are worth pointing out: first, what a delight to see how friendly and down-to-earth she is, and what a fine performer. Authoritative, yet not stuffy or standoffish in any way, she presents these old trad ballads in a way that makes them seem like the most immediate and compelling of contemporary art... And, of course, the music is simply stunning -- the band plays sweet, but keeps things simple; it's warm and modern without muddling down in crossover pretensions, it's just simply lovely, lovely acoustic music. Finally, there's the experience of seeing Rusby sing: is it possible such a perfect sound is coming out of that everyday-looking lass before you? Guess so. Now I'll have to redouble my efforts to see her when she plays live at a venue near me... I know it'll be a night to remember!


Kate Rusby "The Girl Who Couldn't Fly" (Compass, 2005)
(Produced by John McCusker)

Oh, it's so sweet! I can't help it: I hear a Kate Rusby album and I just melt and get all gushy... She's just really, really good, one of the most striking and creatively vital British folk artists of the last thirty years. This album is no exception... It doesn't blast off in new directions (thank god) but hews close to the winning formula of her last few albums, which is a gorgeous, rich combination of traditional material and original new tunes that have a softness and sleekness that belie the depth of the writing. If you're a fan already you will definitely not be disappointed; if you're new to Rusby's work, this disc is as fine an introduction to her work as you could ask for. Highly recommended!


Kate Rusby "Awkward Annie" (Pure, 2007)
(Produced by Kate Rusby)

Another sweet set from this extraordinary English-trad songstress. On first blush, this album doesn't seem as distinctive as some of her earlier work, but like all of Rusby's records, it will sneak up on you, and colonize your heart. The opening track is a children's ditty with a strong, catchy melody (it stuck in my head for days) and the other songs are uniformly pretty and delicate... Perhaps too much so, but still it's quite lovely. This is the first album that Rusby's recorded since dissolving her decade-plus partnership with fiddler John McCusker, who helped produce all her previous releases -- here, she takes the producer's role and proves quite capable of maintaining her former glory. One especial treat is her loyal cover version of the Kinks' oldie, "The Village Green Preservation Society," which sends up the British proclivity for forming oddball social groups... Rusby's read-through of this fine old song brings the lyrics to life in a way the Ray Davies original did not -- where he was sharply lampooning the fustiness and daffiness of the English, she, decades later, seems under less pressure to satirize and seems more openly affectionate... Plus, it's a fine chance for her to employ her wonderfully rounded , utterly adorable Yorkshire accent in a more modern context... All in all, this is another album that Rusby loyalists will want to track down; classy, sweet-sounding and filled with good cheer.


Kate Rusby "Sweet Bells" (Pure, 2008)
(Produced by Joe & Kate Rusby)

Although her voice is always a treat, I can't help feeling that Rusby missed a great opportunity on this record, a set of traditional holiday songs she grew up with as a child in Yorkshire, England. Many of these grand old tunes are made for robust group performances, and the lack of harmony vocals or choruses of any kind gives this set a slightly deflated feel... Rusby is certainly of carrying the material herself, and she may have been making a point of stylistically separating herself from early recordings by the Watersons, but her soft, sugary renditions of songs such as "Hail Chime On" and "The Holly And The Ivy" seem oddly flat and remote by comparison. The boisterousness and cheerfulness I'd expected don't seem to be present, nor the sense of communal joy. Of course, a lot of people like their holiday music on the softer side, and for those of you, this record is an undoubted gem.


Kate Rusby "Make The Light" (Pure, 2010)
Taking up where her last record (the Christmas one) left off, Rusby pursues a path spiritual concerns, of disappointment in life, resignation, forbearance and a stiff upper lip in the face of various iniquities and sorrows. It's all done quietly, demurely, but with a calm power, and in her trademark musical style. This is a beautiful-sounding album with melodic, neo-trad arrangements, as well as a deep reservoir of sadness in the lyrics. I'm not sure what was going on with Rusby in her own life (assuming this has some autobiographical core...) but I do hope things get brighter soon. In the meantime, this is a very good album, although not quite the bright, ethereal romp of some of her previous sets. Definitely worth a spin, though!


Kate Rusby "While Mortals Sleep" (Pure, 2011)


Kate Rusby "20" (Island, 2013)




Best-Ofs & Other Stuff

The Poozies "Come Raise Your Head (A Retrospective)" (Compass, 2000)


Kate Rusby "Live From Leeds" (DVD) (Pure/Compass, 2004)
A must-have for all Kate Rusby fans. This beautifully-produced concert video is a real winner, showcasing Rusby and her band at their best, before an adoring, appreciative English audience. Several things are worth pointing out: first, what a delight to see how friendly and down-to-earth she is, and what a fine performer. Authoritative, yet not stuffy or standoffish in any way, she presents these old trad ballads in a way that makes them seem like the most immediate and compelling of contemporary art... And, of course, the music is simply stunning -- the band plays sweet, but keeps things simple; it's warm and modern without muddling down in crossover pretensions, it's just simply lovely, lovely acoustic music. Finally, there's the experience of seeing Rusby sing: is it possible such a perfect sound is coming out of that everyday-looking lass before you? Guess so. Now I'll have to redouble my efforts to see her when she plays live at a venue near me... I know it'll be a night to remember!




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