OK, so Kate’s the darling of the folk media, but let’s be fair – this new CD is the product of a more mature artiste, one who is clearly growing up and moving on – even though she’s manifestly retaining some of those appealing “little girl” attributes. Like her wide-eyed natural enjoyment in the telling of stories, sure, but also obviously her still-youthful singing voice (I’d rather not use the word “girly”, but let’s face it, Kate’s unlikely to lose her natural timbre and become a husky croaker overnight!) – and I’ve heard even her critics grudgingly acknowledge that her command of phrasing is becoming more adult and knowing with each successive album release.
So what marks Kate’s latest offering out? Well, Kate emerges from ‘Underneath the Stars’ with a whole bunch of new songs, of which seven are self-penned and a further four are Kate’s own settings of traditional words; the remaining cut (and the least successful to my mind) is a cover of ‘You Belong To Me’. Perhaps the most accurate reflection of Kate’s artistic development is the above ratio, for it’s her own compositions that form the standout tracks. Kate’s penchant for the defiantly old-fashioned heroic-romantic side of ancient balladry comes to the fore in ‘The Elfin Knight’ and the even more unimaginatively titled ‘A Ballad’ – they could pass for traditional lyrics, yet somehow they transcend pastiche, and musically speaking both are convincing too. On the other hand, Kate’s also carving herself a bit of niche with her developing original songcraft as evidenced in ‘The Lark’, and ‘ No Names’ (which, although recent compositions, express timeless romantic yearning in simple and understandable language) and the beautiful, reassuring ‘Moon Shadow’. And Kate’s gift for creating a memorable melody is undiminished, for I bet you’ll be singing along with the chorus of ‘Wandering Soul’ before the tracks over! Kate’s already proved her skill in setting traditional texts, here, perhaps ‘Bonnie House Of Airlie’ has a mild air of “been there before”, but that’s less a criticism of the track itself than a recognition of what I might term “the Rusby signature sound and treatment” in full play.
And so to the arrangements: well, I’d had the suspicion of an all-purpose template “band” arrangement starting to creep in around the time of the previous CD, but here Kate and hubby John have together come up with some delightful and often comparatively understated settings that don’t draw one’s attention away from the texts. ‘Moon Shadow’ incorporates a lovely string arrangement, and the “little brass choir” (Kate’s Grimethorpe lads) provide an attractive rich and warm sonic blanket to imaginatively and sparingly cloak three of the tracks. And naturally, the various Rusby Band members – McCusker, Cutting, Carr and Seward – do their usual things admirably alongside and underneath Kate’s trademark hesitant-rippling guitar figures, very occasionally augmented by guest appearances from Messrs. J. Doyle, K. Drever, McGoldrick, Vernal, D. Shaw and Angel. Idlewild’s Roddy Woomble sings with Kate on three tracks, and Kellie While helps to swell the chorus on the aforementioned ‘Wandering Soul’.
Finally, then, to the album’s title, which of course acknowledges that Kate’s well-admitted phobia about plane travel is no barrier to proud artistic flight. And Kate’s every reason to be proud of this new CD, for, since it has her unmistakable personality stamped all over it and is thus unlikely to disappoint her legions of fans, at the same time it marks (and justifies) her growing confidence in her own writing.