...Just another, utterly spellbinding collection of trad and self-penned tunes...
Chris Jones 2003
Sometimes one longs for a favourite artist to put a foot wrong. Or at least a toe. Not Kate Rusby. A dodgy 'new direction'? A world/folk fusion project with some Guatemalan pan pipers? Something for the poor critic to point at and be, well, critical about? Nope - just another, utterly spellbinding collection of trad and self-penned tunes. Totally lacking in pretension and with a scarily self-assured sense of what it is that she's really, really good at. Curse her loveliness, indeed.
The feat's a double whammy, coming as it does, after her last year's compilation/career overview 10, which firmly sealed her place next to Eliza Carthy as folk's young leading (little) light. Rusby sounds totally undaunted. It's only to be expected from a lass whose talent is matched by her humility and dedication to the music, first and foremost.
Underneath... has a more stripped down feeling to it as Kate says she wanted: ''to base the album more around the tinkles''. In other words there's morefocus on that voice with its Northern twang. Sparse backing comes from usual cohorts Ian Carr (on wondrous guitar), Andy Cutting (accordion) and, naturally, partner John McCusker on fiddle.Together with guests such as Eddi Reader and Simon Fowler (Ocean Colour Scene) they've forged a gentlersound, though it's occasionally a little more uptempo, as on the amusing opener, ''The Goodman''. And on ''The Blind Harper'' she adopts the standard young folkie's trick of throwing in a tricky time-signature to liven things up a bit.
One can always sense Kate's puckish sense of independence (''Let Me Be'') yet the overall feeling is quietly melancholic. Songs of yearning (''Bring Me A Boat'') and missing love ('''The White Cockade'', ''Young James'') are beautifully plaintive, though, by now, Rusby could sing the phone book and make it heartbreaking.
For all the new life injected into old standards it's two of the four Rusby originals that really take the breath away. ''Falling'' is a painfully honest recounting of her illness (due to overwork - slacker rock bands take note) and the title track has to rate as one of her finest songs. A deceptively simple song of regret and redemption that's almost too painfully pure.
So, business as usual from Barnsley's finest daughter. Some may bemoan her lack of new direction, but when it's work as finely wrought as this you'd be foolish to wish otherwise. Gorgeous stuff.