Show of Hands: don't think twice, they're better than all right
Song of the Day (Revisited): Paul Brady ... Arthur McBride

Song of the Day (Revisited): Kate Rusby ... Who Will Sing Me Lullabies?

One early decision, as I reproduce and seek new readers for the Salut! Live Song of the Day series that appeared here from June to August 2011, is that I will not feel bound by the same running order. There is no illuminating reason for this; it will just make it easier for me when judging whether an item needs to be updated or can simply be published in its original form.

For my dip into the rich repertoire of Kate Rusby, I had no doubt the story needed to be brought up to date. Not long ago, Kate's dad, Steve, a powerhouse in the family cottage industry surrounding and supporting her work, sent me her new CD, Ghost.


Ghost

I found the album instantly captivating. As has increasingly been the case, it mixes traditional songs with Kate's own compositions and, once again, it is difficult to make a distinction between old and new. That is a mark of Kate's artistry; so - to my ears at least - is the choice, for her first entirely original album in four years, to trust the formula that if something is not broken, it does not need to be fixed.

Ghost has abundant subtlety and freshness of approach but, for all Kate's promotional protestations that the album "heralds points of departure", the average Rusby fan will take this as another terrific album with little or no noticeable departure at all. Unless they have keener ears than I.

With her husband Damien O'Kane, who shares production duties with Kate as well as his decisive contributions on guitar (and banjo), she has gathered a top-quality bunch of session musicians around her and come up with another engaging set of songs, delivered in those seductive but entirely natural tones that are the best antidote to the glitz and vocal embroidery of X Factor. From The Outlandish Knight to the closing title track, the album provides unqualified joy.

Where were we? Ah yes, Song of the Day. Let me roll back the years, three at any rate, and allow what I wrote then - with its own sense of familiarity, the apology for a late review, but a more formal way of referring to Kate (Rusby throughout after first reference to the full name) - to introduce the same choice now:

Proof that one way or the other, Salut! Live gets round to keeping most of its promises.

I should have reviewed Kate Rusby's album of self-composed material, Make The Light, months ago. Good intentions got lost somewhere in the valley of inactivity into which this site drifted while I was in London, and this is intended to some extent to make good that oversight.

But the song in the clip was not on that album. Nor is it the Rusby song that would have been my natural first choice as I put into practice my belief that no Salut! Live compilation of Songs of the Day could approach completeness without her presence.

In a fair world, I would have opted for Rusby's version of Our Town, in which she takes Iris Dement's irresistible song - was it inspired by Paragould, Arkansas, Dement's birthplace, or the Cypress, California of her childhood, or neither? - and makes it sound as if it might be about Barnsley. Sadly, I could locate no embeddable clip (though you can find it for yourself at YouTube).

So Who Will Sing Me Lullabies?, a heartrending tribute to the Battlefield Band singer Davy Steele, a great family friend who was important to Rusby when she was a little girl - and later in her professional career - but died cruelly young, seemed an appropriate substitute.

It is a live recording, with those minor blemishes to be expected away from the studios, but captures the soft beauty of Rusby's voice, her considerable stagecraft and the strength of her writing as well as articulating bereavement with affectionate, poignant power.

At YouTube, the clip has been seen more than 550,000 times, attracting 1,304 "likes" and 22 "dislikes" (NB: that was then: the figures have grown to nearly 860,000 likes, just 2,400 dislikes; work out the respective rates of increase for yourselves). One visitor wrote: "I could listen to her reading the shipping forecast!"


Make the light
The song shows that even before Make The Light, Rusby had demonstrated her writing gifts. Traditional songs have been the backbone of her career but she has an impressive ability to make her own songs sound as if they, too, are steeped in history.

I have spotted some less than enthusiastic responses. A BBC reviewer's positive references were counterbalanced by complaints about "a set perhaps overly dominated by slow tempos" and "the clunky rhyme scheme of Only Hope, which chimes 'thinking' with 'sinking' and then 'tumble' with 'crumble'"; he found the album as a whole "an assured, but not too radical departure".

It does not necessarily mean the media's love affair with Kate Rusby is over. Hand on heart, I would have to say Make The Light is not my preferred Rusby album. But that is because the competition is so tough; it is still a compelling example of what is good about English folk music while marking her growing maturity as a writer and a determination to develop as an artist.

Little lights * Make The Light and all other Kate Rusby albums can be bought at the Salut! Live Amazon link. Who Will Sing Me Lullabies? appears on the album Little Lights. Ghost is available at http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00LW4JZMC/salusund-21

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