Kate and band on home ground, Barnsley 2018. Image: Jonas Soderstrom
I was not sure whether to make this the 45th instalment of Salut! Live's Cover Story series comparing and contrasting different versions of the same pieces of music. I shall have it both ways, listing my appraisal of Kate Rusby's new album Hand me Down in two categories, Cover Story and Reviews ...
Much has changed in the world, including that part of the world occupied by folk music, since I first came across Kate Rusby when she was young and I was, well, not truly old.
That was the 1990s. Kate, with Kathryn Roberts*, was a breath of fresh air in folk, their Barnsley accents enhancing the songs they sang and making them sound traditional even if they were contemporary.
Kate enjoyed saying how pleased she was that not everyone liked folk. The marginal nature of this musical genre seemed to her to make it all the more precious, something to be sought after as if a rare diamond.
Over the years since then, she has produced some jewels of her own, a string of outstanding albums showcasing her enchantingly gentle and sometimes mournful voice, sublime live performances bringing warmth and joy to concert halls and other venues of widely varying size.
And her musical interests have developed significantly along the way. The 'knocking down castles" songs that once seemed, on her own account, to define her have been joined by captivating songs of her own composition and an enthusiasm for dipping into the work of others.
Covering classics can be a risky strategy for any performer but the overwhelmingly positive response to her interpretations, for example, of Sandy Denny's Who Knows Where The Times Goes? and Iris DeMent's Our Town served to vindicate the broadening of the Rusby repertoire.
Hand Me Down is the entirely logical consequence of that evolution, a triumphant collection of hits associated with Coldplay, the Bangles, the Kinks, Lyle Lovett, Taylor Swift, Cyndi Lauper, James Taylor, Paul Young, the Cure and Bob Marley plus two pieces culled from TV series soundtracks.
Buy the album at Salut! Live's Amazon record shelf - https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08DSYSJZ6?tag=salusund-21 - or at Kate's Pure Records website (https://purerecords.net/collections/kate-rusby/products/hand-me-down)
Not every single track works for me as well as the opener, Kate roping in daughters Daisy and Phoebe for the harmonies on Manic Monday, written by Prince for the Bangles and winning chart success on both sides of the Atlantic, James Taylor's dreamy Carolina on My Mind and Three Little Birds, a haunting reminder of Marley at his anthemic best and the piece I have chosen to embed below.
I never cared for Paul Young and care still less for The Love of the Common People. But there is not much else I would quarrel with here, whether Kate's choice or her delivery.
And I knew she loved pop music. Her playlist for long car journeys between gigs would exasperate John McCuskey, then her husband and musical partner.
Her notes accompanying this album remind me that she told me back in the early noughties of her huge affection for Coldplay's Yellow. Here, she acclaims Chris Martin's "beautiful heart-wrenching songs", choosing not Yellow but Everglow.
It is not especially fashionable to like Coldplay; I am relieved to be in such company and confident Kate would have marvelled as I did at stadium gigs of theirs I caught in Lyon and Nice.
Lauper's True Colours, the Cure's Friday I'm In Love and a more familiar cover, Ray Davies's lilting Days, first encountered by her when Kirsty MacColl recorded it, lend themselves perfectly to Rusby's voice. And do not underestimate the role of Damien O'Kane, Mr Kate Rusby (sorry, Damien) and father to Daisy and Phoebe. His guitar playing is impeccable and he appears to know all about drum programming.
Fans of each of these covered artists are likely to insist she cannot touch the originals, but they'd be wrong.
Rusby brings something fresh to each of her selections, as the former Bangle Susanna Hoffs generously acknowledges with regard to Manic Monday, and it really matters little whether this or that version is superior.
As Dave Swarbrick once told Martin Carthy, who was unsure of a new arrangement he was trying out: "You can do anything you want to music. It won't mind."
Listening to Kate Rusby, and what her family got up to during lockdown, I think back to my earlier point about folk having moved on from what it was.
Half a century ago, folkies wanted to change the world. Our music was a music of a more tolerant and caring, if imaginary, society. I can never forget the actress Susan Penhaligon saying she could never square her neighbour's exquisite guitar playing with the knowledge that he was an ardent Tory. I worked for a Conservative newspaper for 29 years (without inhaling or being asked to inhale). But I knew what she meant.
Irrelevant to this review? Not really. Folk lovers are different, too, nowadays. A very committed fan of Kate's, responding on YouTube to her moving song about migration, Life on a Paper Boat, complained that the vessels contained Muslims. I winced on seeing that comment about such a sensitive, compassionate piece of songwriting.
So no, Hand Me Down does not quite inspire a spirit of forgiveness for Kate Rusby's home town and its grimly emphatic vote for Brexit.
But it gladdens the heart all the same.
* Kathryn and Kate recorded my folk album of the 1990s. Kathryn performs with her husband Sean Lakeman.