Dipping into the past: Cara Dillon, Spencer the Rover and the Rotherham factor
Dipping into the Past: John Mayall, Eric Clapton and Rambling on My Mind

Cover Story: (15) The Queen and the Soldier. Suzanne Vega or Kathryn Roberts and Kate Rusby

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Can, for once, a draw be called?
I have already said Cover Story is not intended as a series of duels. It is merely a vehicle for alerting Salut! Live readers to - or, more likely - reminding them of the options music offers, the different versions of the same songs, though personal preferences are inevitable.

I have always admired The Queen and the Soldier, a long anti-war ballad written by Suzanne Vega, but had until a few hours ago heard only the version by Kate Rusby and Kathryn Roberts on their eponymous 1995 recording that I made my album of the decade back when reviewing folk music for The Daily Telegraph. Roberts is the dominant voice on this track but Rusby - for once in the background - adds exquisite harmonies.


Having decided to include the song in the series, I belatedly listened to Vega singing her own song. It is a treasure, with beautifully clear vocals, superb timing and the force you'd expect in the delivery of powerful lyrics. We are left to reflect on the principled sacrifice of the soldier and the pained execution of duty by the queen, though the hint of sexual attraction has led some to speculate that Vega had in mind Queen Elizabeth I.

Rusby and Roberts? I well remember an Irish friend, Frank Gallagher, a superb musician himself, asking me about these "gorgeous Yorkshire lasses" - he may not have said lasses - who were taking the English folk scene by storm. I loved then their refusal to compromise on their Barnsley accents, and I love it still. And the arrangement of their version is simply stunning (I shall add the musicians' names when I have time to research them.

Among the comments at YouTube, we find "TheGloucesterfarian" declaring: "Suzanne Vega may have written it, but Kate and Kathryn bring this song to life."

But I am with another contributor to the debate, Brongaene Griffin, who said: "Vega's version is pretty amazing too. I wouldn't compare them. They are just different. Neither is better or worse. Vega's voice is crystal clear and perfect in pitch."

Take your pick. I'd play either and be equally satisfied.

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* Use Salut! Live's Amazon link to buy the Rusby and Roberts album containing this song at https://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000024I0W/salusund-21, or Vega's debut, also eponymous, album here

** Photo of Suzanne Vega by CC BY-SA 3.0 or "Mattge3". The Rusby and Roberts photo is the cover of their album.


Comments

Bill Taylor

This is a wonderful song and choosing the better version isn't easy. I think Vega takes it, though. The slight rawness of her voice, underscored by the plaintiff organ, gives the words more impact than Roberts' and Rusby's rather more melodious, even prettier rendition. If anything, their version is a little too over-produced. Simpler would be preferable. That's not to knock them, though. They do a beautiful job.

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