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KATE RUSBY – Hand Me Down (Pure PRCD64)

Hand Me DownAlready planned but given new homemade intimacy through its lockdown recording (aside from some occasional remote contributions, as intended, it’s just her and Damien O’Kane), Hand Me Down  sees Rusby interpreting not traditional folk songs but those from a more contemporary era, although, as she says, still doing what folk singers do in reinterpreting songs handed down through the generations.

Some will be very familiar, others less so. It opens, though, with one of the former, a delightful fingerpicked, softly sung, wistful take on ‘Manic Monday’, the Prince song that gave The Bangles their first hit and featuring oohing vocal contributions from the couple’s two young daughters.

Indeed, there’s several major chart hits covered here, the second up dating back to 1968 and The Kinks (though also a 1989 hit for Kirsty MacColl) with a burbling synth bassline underpinning ‘Days’. Then comes Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’, the jerky percussive rhythm slowed down (and eliminating the ‘Hey Mickey’ comparisons) with O’Kane on banjo, followed by a reflective strummed take on Cyndi Lauper’s 1986 hit ‘True Colours’, the fingerpicked ‘Carolina In My Mind’, James Taylor’s debut single back in 1969, this time with Ron Block on banjo, and a punchy drum programming, folk-rock reading of ‘Love Of The Common People’, probably best known via either the Nicky Thomas or Paul Young hits but first recorded in 1966 by The Four Preps (the orchestra conducted by Leon Russell), the first UK version being by The Pennsylvania Sixpence in 1967.

The last of the major chart players comes with The Cure’s international 1992 hit ‘Friday I’m In Love’, here given an inspired dreamily slow, almost lullabying uncluttered treatment with O’Kane on tenor guitar.

Returning to the lesser known or less successful songs, a number about the glow people leave behind after they’ve gone, ‘Everglow’ was the fifth single to be taken from Coldplay’s 2015 album A Headful of Dreams, here arranged for guitar rather than piano. A minor hit for Lyle Lovett in 1988, taken from his Pontiac album, ‘If I Had A Boat’ was apparently inspired by him once trying to ride a pony across a pond. Transposed from a twinkling country tune to a starry-skies folk feel, hearing it sung at Barnsley Folk Festival by Dave Burland also inspired her to get her dad to teach her some guitar chords.

There’s two back to back TV show themes, the first being ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ from the second, 70s, series of The Littlest Hobo, a Lassie-styled children’s TV series about a German shepherd although, again featuring Block on banjo, this is a much slower , though still fairly frisky, version than the Keith Ferreira original. The other has a family connection, Rusby’s parents being friends with Willie Russell and his wife (he also lent the guitar on which she learned her first chords), the song, appropriately strummed here, being ‘The Show’, the Russell-penned theme to Connie, an 80s Central TV series set in the fashion industry and a UK Top 30 hit for Rebecca Storm in 1985.

The collection ends with a family get together, the young Rusby-O’Kanes rejoining mum and dad for Bob Marley’s a very Yorkshire folksy take on ‘Three Little Birds’, its “don’t worry…every little thing gonna be all right” chorus a perfect uplift for the times. Accompanied by a booklet with illustrated personal anecdotes relating to each song, this is a truly lovely addition to Rusby’s admirable catalogue and hopefully a second volume might surface somewhere down the line. Suggestions welcome.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.katerusby.com

‘Manic Monday’ – officially homemade video: