Kate Rusby – 30 Happy Returns: Album Review

Time flies. Kate Rusby celebrates 30 years of touring as a professional folk singer with a set of star-studded reinterpretations.

Release Date: 6th May 2022

Label: Pure Records

Format: digital / CD

Hard to comprehend that Kate Rusby has been performing and playing as a professional musician for thirty years. Having said that she does seem to have been a constant presence; albums, tours, the regular Christmas shows, hosting a festival now into its eighth year, a strong online presence and even branching out into the cover version market.

30 is the commemorative souvenir of those years where she hasn’t followed the precedent set by the Twenty album from 2012 that reimagined twenty-one tracks, but kept things manageable. Imagine, should we follow the template, the tracklisting for 50…. However, the idea is pretty much the same, with guest stars and long-term band members joining her to rearrange, rework and rewire some of her choicest songs.

The selection features music and songs from the past decade but also dips back for several little treasures. What’s of particular interest is how these retrospectives give an interesting view of how older songs are played and imagined in a contemporary setting. The idea in general that folk songs (some of these are, some aren’t) are a living tradition, open to interpretation, is an interesting concept. In reality, it could apply to all songs and musical compositions, the notion being played out perfectly for us on 30.

So, dipping into the set, we finally get a chance to appreciate the ‘fantasy folk song’ theme. Kate is always sharing her love of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who add an unavoidably Lion King-y presence to We Will Sing. Like Nic Jones on 20, it’s probably quite an emotional bucket list moment. Each to their own though as personally, we’re more excited about hearing Richard Hawley on No Names from the excellent 2005 album (time flies!) The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly. A Kate Rusby gateway song that may have enticed in some after appearing on a Folk Award compilation. The new arrangement has Lord Richard’s velvety tones accompanied by that ethereal Damien O’Kane electric guitar (normally the four-string tenor, now upped to mainly Stratocasters) that’s become a Rusby signature, caressing those strings to create a wistful celestial ambience.

That very same signature ethereality also graces what may possibly be the Rusby signature song, Underneath The Stars. The brassy accompaniment in another guise is replaced with a gossamer delicacy. I’d wager you could apply any musical style to this track and it would work – some genres may offer a challenge… however, listen without welling up if you can, particularly at a minute and a half on the “why on earth am I pretending” line.

And so it goes on. We could dissect in detail how each piece has undergone surgery, but note how The Fairest Of All Yarrow – or Yazza – gets a sprightly brass arrangement and in particular how the more ‘folky’ tracks of the past fare in their shiny new 30 coats. While some retain an organic folkiness, Let Me Be goes all contemporary and very cool Indie Folk; a Summery shuffle indeed in the same way that the rustic vibe on Only Desire What You Have invokes a busy bee-ness in its new guise.

Not that they’re needed, one of three bonus tracks, the inclusion of Secret Keeper from the Great Exhibition Of The North that may have fallen beneath the radar gets a fair chance. However, let’s flag up the Hunter Moon/Until Morning pairing which is simply sublime. If Underneath The Stars didn’t break you, the uplift of the former and the sheer emotional clout in the fragility of the latter will do the trick. Might be just me with the emotional attachment, but if the recent live arrangement of Bitter Boy would have made the cut, I’d be a broken man.

Continuing to reinvent and refocus. It might be preaching to the converted, but Kate Rusby – 30 – 2022 – whatever…is still a shining star to behold.

Here’s the opening track from the album:

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