Although it’s not one that comes round often enough, Rusby’s Christmas albums have become something of a tradition. Following on from 2008’s Sweet Bells and 2011’s While Mortals Sleep, this is her third and, once again, finds her rummaging through the South Yorkshire songbooks for their pub singalong variations of familiar carols and providing her own tunes or arrangements.
As you might imagine, it’s wonderful stuff, setting the festive feel with the brass tickled cascading ‘Bradfield’, which, named for the Berkshire village where it’s sung, is a sort of musical appropriation of ‘Joy To The World’. As before, several of the other carols are better known by more familiar names, ‘Sunny Bank’ is a regional variant of ‘I Saw Three Ships’ while ‘Little Bilberry’ is ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’ set to a completely different tune, the banjo dappled (courtesy Damien O’Kane) ‘Dilly Carol’ is ‘Green Grow The Rushes Oh’ and the diatonic accordion wheezing ‘Mount Lyngham’ sets the words to’ While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night’ to a tune drawn from two carols, ‘Mount Mariah’ and ‘Lyngham’.
Likewise, the tinkling ‘Yorkshire Merry Christmas’ is still ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’, Just transposed from its birthplace in the West Country, although clearly folk up north clearly believe it’s better to give than receive since the lyrics here don’t demand to be brought anything in return, figgy pudding or otherwise
Not strictly speaking a carol, ‘Christmas Goose’ unfolds in a Manchester pub and tells the witty story of a traveller who had his way with the pub chambermaid and gave her a guinea for her trouble, returning the following year to be given his change in the form of a baby. The remaining traditional numbers, ‘Cornish Wassailing’ and, dating back to around 1625, ‘Cold Winter’ (or, more strictly, ‘To Drive The Cold Winter Away’) are both songs she’s been performing in her seasonal live shows over the past couple of years and has finally got round to recording.
The two other songs here depart from the South Yorkshire template, Felix Bernard’s evergreen festive favourite ‘Winter Wonderland’ being given a big band swing feel while, inspired by the magical feeling of being out in the fields at home on Christmas Day, the title track closer is a gorgeous Rusby original, a pledge of love sprinkled with rimestone images of a crisp, fresh morn and a hymnal melody. Pour the mulled wine, crack open a mince pie and enjoy the best touch of wintry frost since old Robert stopped by the woods on a snowy evening.
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Kate Rusby Live At Christmas: