Copyright 1998 - 7 4255 2
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This review is written by Kevin McCarthy, 7/99
"Kevin and Maxine’s Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews"
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With seemingly more than a touch of incongruity, it is the younger generation that is in the forefront of the effort to sustain and breath new life into British traditional folk music as a credible art form. Typically, generation gaps find the older crowd lamenting the musical choices of the young, at the very least for failing to include those forms of the past that remain viable today and from which lineage can be traced to more current, popular styles.
Rest assured that Kate Rusby, still in her twenties, recognizes these musical connections to yesteryear. Her efforts at revealing and re-igniting the spirit and beauty of traditional music and singing deserve ample applause--both for her willingness to credit the past by bringing it again to the fore and her inventiveness in presenting these tunes in fresh fashion.
Based in Yorkshire, this lass with the fair maiden voice invigorates these ballads and tunes as if born to sing this genre. Her interpretations are inviting and evocative, whether she sings of parent versus young adult 'mate-of-choice' conflicts or unrequited lovers mocked by tragedy. Rusby, the songwriter, has also written a few of the compositions on this release, including two of the best--"A Rose In April" and "Old Man Time."
The soft guitar-backed "A Rose In April" is a strangely sweet but ultimately tragic tale of a young woman desperately pining to be with her lover, fearing she will lose her attractiveness if any time passes:
"I was a rose in April,
and still a rose in June,
I fear that come the winter,
I shall no longer bloom."
Her mother tries to reassure her:
"You were a rose in April,
and still a rose in June,
but God can send five winters,
and I know my rose will bloom."
Disobeying her parent's wishes that she remain home, she flees to the arms of her lover. Her father, blinded by fury, tracks them down and kills them both with his dagger. But the daughter injects one last bit of comeuppance:
"Oh father, cruel father,
you've killed my love, killed me,
but now I'll rest beside him,
locked in his arms I'll be..."
And politicians are worried about what kids see on television? Let's hope they never catch on to disturbing subjects enumerated in folk music.
"Old Man Time" is a reflection on how we let time slip through our hands, taking for granted there will always be the opportunity, the chance to attend to what truly brings meaning to our lives. Reminiscent of Dougie MacLean in musical style and philosophy with this lovely tune, Rusby sings:
"...This old man has an hourglass
For every soul on the land.
Oh, Old Man Time, I have seen mine
It's the one with the fastest sand.
No sooner is it turned,
back through the glass it's churned,
I'm wishing I could have each hour again...
To me, Old Man, your tune is rare,
Did God not give you all my sand?
Or maybe mine I had to share
Or is there some left in your hand?
They tell me time is gold, well maybe it's been sold,
Or was it simply washed away in rain?"
The primarily piano-backed "Annan Waters" is another cut laced with tragedy. Racing to cross the river to see his love, a young man is, instead, unfortunately swept away to his death. Indicating the pliability of some traditional folk songs, the liner notes indicate there are some versions of this song that conclude with a positive, upbeat ending. Folk music is nothing if not flexible--you want happy, we can do happy.
The percussion-driven "I Am Stretched On Your Grave," continues the string of tearjerkers. The protagonist remains absolutely devoted to and ready to join the beloved deceased buried in the grave:
"I am stretched out on your grave
And I'll lie here for ever
If your hands were in mine
I'd be sure they would not sever
My apple tree, my brightness,
It's time we were together
For I smell of the earth
And I'm worn by the weather..."
Be not overly concerned though about having to rush out for a Prozac refill, because in Rusby's hands, these gloom-and-doom odes (and they are the majority on this release) are a match made in heaven. Her vocals, combined with the instrumental backing, make these songs go down easy. Her style is extremely smooth. British traditional folk music rests in very capable hands.
Rusby, on vocals, piano and guitar is backed by a veritable who's who of impressive musicians: Ian Carr on guitar; Andy Cutting on accordion; Donald May on percussion; Conrad Ivitsky on double bass; Alison Kinnaird on cello; John McCusker on fiddle; Michael McGoldrick on flute and whistles; Tony McManus on guitar; Alan Reid on harmony vocals; Eric Rigler on uillean pipes; and Davy Steele on harmony vocals.
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