Traditional numbers given a Rusby spin, best enjoyed with pint in hand.
Martin Aston 2011
Christmas albums are like Christmas Day with your relatives – fraught with potential pitfalls. But only the Grinch would want to ban them outright. And when Kate Rusby, aka the Barnsley Nightingale, is thrumming her guitar and dishing out the seasonal warmth, there is much to be enjoyed.
This is a very different Christmas album to say, Zooey Deschanel & M. Ward’s A Very She & Him Christmas, with its rock’n’roll mindset (Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree; Baby, It’s Cold Outside; Blue Christmas; et al). Of course there are iconic Christmas albums of that vintage – Phil Spector, The Carpenters and The Beach Boys to name three – but While Mortals Sleep is pure homespun British trad fare, as befits Rusby’s folk roots. And Christmas’ roots in carols are the root of While Mortals Sleep. Rusby’s on record as someone who adores Christmas, and this is her second album of "South Yorkshire-inspired songs and carols" following 2008’s Sweet Bells. That album’s title-track was a carol peculiar to Yorkshire, based on While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks but with an alternative tune and extra lyrics. This time around, she’s adapted the lyrics to the tune of On Ilkley Moor Baht ‘at, though the title here is Cranbrook. Feel free to sing along with "As shepherds washed their socks at night…"
Little Town of Bethlehem, Seven Good Joys and Shepherds Arise make appearances, and if that instantly conjures a mood of encroaching Sunday school mornings, remember that these versions should be listened to by the hearth, with a pint (or equivalent) in hand – these are Kate’s instructions, so take heed. With each passing song, she draws us into a time and a place, mostly the deep dark nights of yesteryear. The words to Diadem date from 1779 and the solemn brass/accordion backing feels suitably dusty. Similarly, The First Tree in the Greenwood, The Wren and Holmfirth Anthem – all folk perennials – ramp up the melancholy, to counter Kris Kringle’s cheerful swing: Rusby’s quivery voice and plaintive tone best suits forlorn ballads and the likes of Rocking Carol’s lullaby, but she can sounds just at home with these spirited songs.
Rusby is going to be touring this album in December, with a brass section in tow, so grab a pint (or equivalent), roll over the inner Grinch and go tell your relatives the news.