A Production of The Folk Life ( Inc. 1976)
John McLaughlin and Jamie Downs, Editors


CD Reviews: “Roots & Wings,”
(dba The Digital Folk Life. Org)

Caught in a “wintry mix” down in DC and unwilling to brave the idiocies of I-270, I sat me down at a trusty li’l laptop and commenced to typing. Here are the results:

Kate Rusby, "Underneath the Stars" (Compass Records,) www.compass
Produced by John McCusker /

Can you say “elegance” and “Yorkshire” in the same sentence? Of course you can, when it’s Kate Rusby you’re listening to. The opening ballad, “The Goodman,” a rollicking version of the old song about the farmer whose wife has an answer to every trace of a recent night-visitor that his poor old eyes can come up with, sets the pace, with Kate’s husky, almost delicate alto frisking thro the tune (her own), to the accompaniment of Ian Carr (on guitar), John McCusker (producer/husband, here on clattering cittern rather than his famous fiddle), Ewan Vernal (on double bass), Andy Cutting (on diatonic accordion), James Mackintosh (on percussion), and Neil Yates (trumpet and a beautiful flugel horn).

That expert, tight accompaniment is at the service of the distinctive voice of Kate Rusby, as she moves from brisk treatment of a comic ballad of cuckoldry to the following plaintive Irish song of unrequited love, “The Daughter of Megan “ (words by J. Dovaston, tune by Kate Rusby): “The daughter of Megan so lovely and blooming/ I met at Glenavon’s gay glittering hall/ And high rose my heart, ambition assuming, /To dance with the damsel, the bloom of the ball.” Here, Ian Carr’s tinkling mandolin entwines with John McCusker’s cittern and whistle, together with Ewan Vernal’s double bass, Andy Seward’s stately banjo and Andy Cutting’s sweet diatonic accordion, to provide an orchestra “from the big hall,” behind Kate’s once-more elegant vocal, in one of the highlights of this lovely recording.

A pattern of alternation between uptempo and wistful balladry thus seems established by the next brisk song, “Let Me Be” (traditional words supplemented by Kate Rusby, tune by Kate Rusby), followed by the press-gang lament, “Cruel,” with a chorus provided by Simon Fowler’s backup vocals – doubled in the studio? – among the many pleasures of this recording. Nic Jones song, “The Blind Harper,” about attempted horse-stealing from old King Henry – how long since we’ve heard this? – is another of its happy discoveries, with “The White Cockade,” an old king’s- shilling ballad, learnt from her parents, following on its heels. In other words, her latest outing in Compass Records is another demonstration of how securely “within the tradition” Kale Rusby is, here as she has always been.

“Young James,” words and music both by Kate Rusby, sits securely within that tradition, a ballad of separated love, “guest vocals” by Eddi Reader providing nicely-intertwined chorus, with a little end-tune, “Pig Shoes,” from Ian Carr, who is, as Kate notes, “very good on his guitar, tha’ knows!” Aye, he is that.

However, it would be possible to get an argument that the high point of this recording is Kate’s own true love song, “Falling,” with its beautiful chorus, “Here am I falling, oh why am I falling, / Take me to where I belong, / I’m standing here falling, before you I’m falling/ If it weren’t for your wings I’d be gone.” John McCusker, on viola and fiddle, provides a fitting, lovely accompaniment on this true love song.

Still, it has to contend for honors with the following song, “Bring Me a Boat” (tune by Phil Cunningham, words by Kate Rusby based, she says, “on a song from Newcastle called ‘The Waters of the Tyne,’” which is adapted in fine style to its new home). The expert instrumental setting, again, is part of its charm, but that elegant husky alto of Kate Rusby carries the whole thing away.

The scheme of uptempo/downtempo alternation seems to have been abandoned by now, but the return of a lilt in “Polly,” a sailor’s return song, followed by the melancholic “Sweet William’s Ghost,” seems to restore the pattern. However, it leads finally to the album’s title song, “Underneath the Stars,” mingling the coming and going of love and the stars, “of their own free will,” letting what appears to be an underlying metaphysical wistfulness that is natural to Kate Rusby shine forth at the end of this very lovely set of songs and tunes. She’s done it again. All you need to do is get *Underneath the Stars* and let it wash over you.

(Copyright John McLaughlin 2/3/2004)