Kate Rusby: Philosophers, Poets & Kings 

If there’s one name that needs no introduction on these pages, it’s Kate Rusby. With an audience that spans all generations and all musical tastes; and a repertoire that’s as rich, imaginative and, at times, adventurous, as any performer taking to studio or stage, Kate Rusby is one of our most talented and popular folk singers. Confirmation of just why that broad appeal has sustained for over twenty years is her latest studio album, released via her Pure Records label on 17th May, Philosophers, Poets & Kings.

The album’s opener, Jenny, is as typical as it is delightful. Kate takes the ballad of Creeping Jen, moves the eponymous horse to Yorkshire, and adds a chorus along with her own, perky, melody. From an understated opening, Kate’s clear voice rings out, before beats and brass build from a singalong chorus. Further enriched by the added voices of Ron Block’s banjo, and Damien O’Kane’s soft backing vocals, it’s a classic Kate Rusby approach to song that reaps wonderful rewards. Yorkshire Jenny is a joy. Deft programming from Anthony Davis, a big bass drum, and an irresistible backbeat make wonderfully light work of a remix (aye, a remix) later in the album too.

Philosophers, Poets & Kings pays melodious homage to Kate’s home, her family, and those who’ve inspired and encouraged her music, in a 12 track album of traditional and self-written songs – with a brace of well-chosen cover versions for good measure. Damien O’Kane’s production masterfully brings together the talents of the large gathering of usual suspects: Duncan Lyall (double bass, Moog), Nick Cooke (Accordion) Josh Clark (percussion) Gary Wyatt (cornet), and Rich Evans (Flugelhorn). Ron Block and Michael McGoldrick add their own inimitable contributions to Jenny, and there are even more guest appearances to come.

 

Kate celebrates the fruit of the vine by adding her own melody to another fine trad song, in the album’s title track, Philosophers, Poets & Kings. Driven, initially, by Damien’s acoustic guitar, there’s added impetus from Josh’s percussion for a song where Diogenes, Aristotle and Plato are held aloft as examples of the truth, laughter and, of course, cognitive dexterity that can be attributed to wine consumption. There’s another drop of something warming in The Farmer’s Toast, which Kate dedicates to the farming family who host the annual Underneath the Starsfestival at Cinder Hill Farm, Cawthorne. There are so many slight variations on this song out there, it’s a joy to hear Michael McGoldrick and Ron Block join Kate & co enjoy the song with such cheer. ‘The Lark is my daily alarmer‘ is easily my own favourite rhyme for ‘farmer.’

 

On a more sombre note, Bogey’s Bonnie Belle is a popular bothy ballad Kate recalls from her childhood. It’s a sad tale, sorrowfully told, and sparsely augmented by Damien’s electric tenor guitar, Duncan’s Moog, and typically elegant whistles of Ross Ainslie.

The first of the two cover versions on the album has been with Kate since she used to join her Dad at festival sound desks. No one takes on an iconic Richard Thompson song like Crazy Man Michael lightly, but one of Kate’s first solo tours was as his support, and this has been a favourite song since her childhood. Josh’s percussion adds an ethereal feel that’s enhanced by the dream-like, insubstantial vocal and Ross’s mournful whistle. It’s an absolute triumph, of course, but the far bigger surprise was Noel Gallagher’s Don’t Go Away. With just Kate’s voice and Damien’s electric tenor guitar, the song is superbly soft, beautifully sparse, and with an edge of plaintive appeal in Kate’s voice for the chorus. Seventeen albums on, there are still times when Kate Rusby’s voice gives me goosebumps.

 

Kate’s own songs for the album remind us that her gift for pairing fine lyrics with an enchanting melody never diminishes. Until Morning sparkles like starlight; a beautiful song of togetherness, of a bond that brings strength and solace; sung from the heart, with Damien’s soft harmonies. Until Morning finds its perfect partner in another song of comfort, As The Lights Go Out, where Sam Kelly’s mellow voice works beautifully alongside Kate’s, and Chas Mackenzie’s haunting electric guitar contrasts perfectly with Damien’s unobtrusive banjo.

 

The first of two locally inspired songs is a comic tale, The Squire And The Parson, based on an old story that Kate’s been singing with her Dad, Steve, for years; and they’ve finally decided it’s ready for a public outing. As Kate displays her usual winning way with a good story, Nick Cooke’s accordion and Michael McGoldrick’s whistles help animate the tale. In contrast, informed by Kate’s awareness of Alzheimer’s, The Wanderer is a beautifully gentle song, and perfectly unhurried.

 

To close the album, Kate takes us back to 1838, and a song written to commemorate the 180th anniversary of the Huskar Pit disaster, where twenty-six working children lost their lives trying to escape from the mine during a freak storm. Halt The Wagons was written as a lullaby to the 15 boys and 11 girls, aged 7-17, whose deaths led to reforms prohibiting underground working for children under 10 years old. Among the shivering sadness of the song, there’s warm brass and, far more evocatively, the voices of 26 members of the Barnsley Youth Choir. The choir, 15 boys and 11 girls, aged 7-17, joined Kate and the musicians underground at the National Coal and Mining Museum to record the song. Kate doesn’t sing this to break our hearts; she sings it to tell a story that has to be told, that we must never, ever forget. Nonetheless, tears will flow – and so they should.

 

It comes as no surprise that Kate Rusby’s 17th studio album should be such an impressive work. She continues to apply her exquisite voice to a meticulous selection of songs, including her own; and she maintains her drive to make tangential journeys into new territory while maintaining that unshakeable bond to her musical heritage. Philosophers, Poets & Kings doesn’t see Kate Rusby channel her inner prog to the same extent as we enjoyed on Life In A Paper Boat. There is, though, a rewarding balance between the comforting warmth of her acoustic performances, and the sonic opportunities offered by modern electronics, and those who wield them so effectively. Philosophers, Poets & Kings is an utterly delightful album; I begin to suspect that this is one of Kate Rusby’s finest albums. So far, anyway – the next 17 are sure to be full of surprises.

 

Source: Kate Rusby: Philosophers, Poets & Kings | Folk Radio

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Review: Alex Rex “Otterburn”

Alex Rex – Otterburn
Tin Angel – 29 March 2019

One of the impressive things about truly original and important artists – Bob Dylan, say – is their ability to reinvent themselves continuously without ever losing track of the thread of their own unique sonic identity. Every second of every great Dylan album could only be Bob Dylan. The difference between Dylan songs in various periods is vast, yet the unifying themes, the lyrical and musical echoes, the sly references that link, for example, One Too Many Mornings to Tangled Up In Blue to Caribbean Wind and beyond combine to produce a body of work so self-sufficient, so pulsating with its own life, that it is practically an ecosystem.

When former Trembling Bells drummer and songwriter Alex Neilson released Vermillion, his first album under the Alex Rex nom de plume, more than one reviewer mentioned Dylan. At the time, the comparison might have appeared superficial: sure, songs like God Make Me Good (But Not Yet) and Postcards From A Dream nodded towards a vaguely Dylanesque sound, one in which Blonde On Blonde, Nashville Skyline and Desire existed simultaneously, but weren’t there fresher, more interesting things going on in Neilson’s songs? In hindsight, and with a full overview of his songwriting career at hand, it seems extremely perceptive

This becomes ever more apparent when listening to the latest Alex Rex album. Just as on Blonde On Blonde you might find a snappy and brutal takedown of the singer’s former lover next to a nostalgic love song to his future wife, on Otterburn you will experience demented guitar-driven odes to masochistic sex rubbing shoulders (and other body parts) with the saddest and sincerest of elegies. And Neilson is unafraid to delve into his own musical past to come up with those often uncanny musical echoes: Otterburn’s last track, Smoke And Memory (which I will talk about in more detail later) is almost a musical mirror image of Seven Years A Teardrop, the song that closed Carbeth, the first Trembling Bells album, almost exactly ten years ago. Continue reading

Strangers In The Room: A Journey Through The British Folk Rock Scene 1967-73

British Folk Rock 1967-1973 – the tip of the iceberg but an interesting and varied collection from the Grapefruit genre anthology series.

And that’s despite the confession of folk brigand Eliza Carthy (Louder Than Words festival interview, Manchester, 2018) that she can’t stand Folk Rock and has never knowingly listened to a Fairport Convention album.

She’ll not be interested then to hear how sixty tracks gather together the familiar with the less so. Songs that you’ll know from the folk tradition and plenty of others which  again, might be less so. If there’s anyone who could lay a claim to knowing all the bands and all the songs then you perhaps deserve a place at the head of the table if not the Eggheads team. Steeleye Span, Ralph McTell Continue reading

Review: Ye Vagabonds: The Hare’s Lament

Ye Vagabonds – The Hare’s Lament
River Lea – 22 March 2019

River Lea – the new record label run by music writer Tim Chipping under the wing of indie giants Rough Trade – is barely six months and three albums old, and already it feels like part of the folk music furniture. The label’s first release, Lisa O’Neill’s Heard A Long Gone Song (2018) was a breath of fresh air, a raw and uncompromising blend of original and traditional songs. The second – The Reeling, by Scottish smallpipe player Brìghde Chaimbeul – is one of the most astonishing, exploratory albums to emerge so far this year in any genre. Taken together, they represent a mighty impressive start for a label that appears to have arrived fully-formed and with a mission to reinvigorate traditional forms of musical expression.

With such an impressive start, the challenge for River Lea now is to keep the momentum going. It is understandable that expectations for their next album are going to be high, both amongst critics and the record-buying public. But Rough Trade know what they are doing (they have been around for forty years after all), and they have clearly put all their trust in their new imprint. And within the first few seconds of the first song on Ye Vagabonds’ new album, The Hare’s Lament, it is obvious Continue reading

Record Review: Lau’s “Midnight And Closedown” 

Melody, poetry, emotion and memory weave in and out like stories. Midnight And Closedown is the next chapter in Lau’s fascinating story.

AMartin Green says, Lau are a triangle, and a triangle is a powerful shape. What Lau achieve when they come together under the rule of three always seems to harness the best of that creative power, and their 2019 album, Midnight And Closedown (released on 8th February), is no exception. Recorded in just a week, but written during a year in which politics has more directly affected our daily thoughts than ever before. Produced byJohn Parish, the man in the chair for PJ Harvey’s Mercury Prize-winning Let England Shake, and This Is The Kit’s beautifully ramshackle Moonshine and Freeze, in a reversal of their usual methods, Lau wrote and recorded Midnight and Closedown before presenting it, in its entirety, to live audiences in November and December last year. The album takes its title from a line in Seamus Heaney’s Glanmore Sonnets and has been described variously as a Brexit album, more akin to late-period Beatles than folk, and even as a hint at a final fling. The first, I’m happy to accept; as for those other assertions, let’s see…

As the album opens there’s certainly a hint of melancholy in Kris Drever’s vocal for I Don’t Want to Die Here. It’s offset, though, by Aidan O’Rourke’s shimmering strings and a sense of locomotion in the rhythm. The lyrical content will undergo more scrutiny than can be offered here, but ‘Slick cobbled stones reflecting seventies festoons / our drunken county rallies round ideas like sad balloons’ certainly support Aidan’s description of the album’s themes… “The vehemence of opinion. The shoutiness. The rise of the right. The allure of brashness in politics…The sense that our collective future is hazy.” Continue reading