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KATE RUSBY "Underneath the Stars" Pure PRCD012

Oh that voice! It seeps into the back of the brain and connects direct to the emotions. Is it time to criticise Kate Rusby for not having moved on, I ask myself? The music stops any thoughts of that kind stone dead. In fact Kate leaped onto the scene almost fully formed as an artist, and it is unlikely there is anywhere else for her to go. She has already seeped her own compositions into the repertoire, but so seamlessly it is impossible to work out which is which without referring to sleeve notes.

John McCusker has added a complex simplicity to the arrangements, which provide hidden surprises for the listener on repeat plays. In truth there is nowhere left for Kate to go in her own career. She might colloborate with others or get involved with projects like her recent film work, but it is difficult to see the basic Rusby album changing much from this high standard. One sideline could be the hit single. Her own composition ' Falling', already familiar from her live set, could be a possibility if she were interested in the idea; or maybe something more left-field, like the traditional song 'The Good Man', a version of the Dubliners hit single 'Seven Drunken Nights'. In truth, though, I doubt if she thinks she needs Top of the Pops.

There are some noticeable Rusbyesque themes which recurr on this 12 song set: there's Rusby sings Nic Jones, with her version of 'The Blind Harper', and its nice to see Nic being given credits on the sleeve notes; there's the setting of interesting poems, like 'The Daughter of Megan'; there's the heartaching rendition of the trad song we all know, as in 'The White Cockade', and the less familiar like 'Sweet William's Ghost.' and a reworking of a trad song like 'Cruel', a sort of mixture between a broken-token song and one of those slowed-down shanties she has teased us with before.

In fact it's a surprise to see that half the songs are Rusby originals, one to a tune by Phil Cunningham. She has the knack of producing a simple song, which says a lot in very few words-sometimes saying as much just by the expression in her voice.

McCusker has put together a backing ensemble of supergroup status: Ian Carr, Andy Cutting, Michael McGoldrick and bassist Ewen Vernal as the powerhouse with other guests, like Eddie Reader on some backing vocals and some members of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band. File under: Weak at the Knees.

Bob Harragan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 54 of The Living Tradition magazine.