Rusby’s first disc of all-original songs is perfectly assured.
Jon Lusk 2010
Two years on from the first release of her Christmas-themed album Sweet Bells, and once again timed with the yuletide market in mind, Make the Light is Kate Rusby’s first disc of all-original songs.
She’s always sprinkled a few of her own compositions among the traditional material that’s formed the bulk of her output, and her talent for adapting this, as well as coming up with new songs that could pass as ‘trad’, has helped earn her plenty of accolades. That, and the pure, relatively unadorned voice she sings them in, of course, which leaves no doubt about her south Yorkshire roots.
Apparently it was Jennifer Saunders (whose Jam & Jerusalem TV series Rusby has written and performed songs for) who suggested she try doing an entirely self-penned album. Taking a break while pregnant with her first child gave Rusby the time to do it, and this new record is the result.
Joined at times by a string quartet and members of long-term collaborators the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, Rusby also has a new band, which includes recently acquired spouse Damien O’Kane on guitars and tenor banjo. They kick off on a slightly surreal note with The Wishing Wife, a pleasantly jaunty jig about a no-good husband who gets his comeuppance by being turned into a dog. It’s just a flash of the humour much more apparent between songs during Rusby’s shows, but is the only really upbeat number on a set perhaps overly dominated by slow tempos.
Both The Mocking Bird and Let Them Fly show the kind of crafty lyrical ambiguity that seems to be a Rusby trademark; the latter is a ‘protest song’ that could easily be addressed to the likes of Blair and Bush ("We will never be charmed by the charmless"). Even so, the clunky rhyme scheme of Only Hope, which chimes "thinking" with "sinking" and then "tumble" with "crumble", is a low point.
Far more likely to nag their way into your subconscious are the hymn-like Green Fields and the sturdy, optimistic surge of Walk the Road, which features a gorgeous horn arrangement and fine backing vocals by O’Kane. Other highlights include the wistful alt-country of Lately, and Four Stars, a dreamy, drifting song with the feel of a lullaby. While not without the occasional shortcoming, Make the Light is an assured, but not too radical departure.