KATE RUSBY – Philosophers, Poets & Kings (Pure PRCD53)

PhilosophersIncredibly, Philosophers, Poets & Kings is Rusby’s 17th studio album in just over 20 years. Once again, a collection of the traditional and self-penned with a couple of covers for good measure, it pays homage to her Yorkshire roots, both musical and personal, as well as furthering her exploits into electronic realms with Moog, synths and programming.

It opens though without any techno frills on her setting of a traditional song, ‘Jenny’, which, although I’ve been unable to track down its provenance, I would assume to originate from Yorkshire and tells the playful tale of Yorkshire Jen, the long shout outsider who proves to have the stamina to stay the course when the others can barely trot. As befits the subject, it builds into a sprightly drum thumping number that features cornet and flugelhorn, Michael McGoldrick on flute, double bass, diatonic accordion and Ron Block on banjo as well as Damien O’Kane on guitars and vocals. Not only that, it’s reprised in a remix version as the penultimate track that strips out flute, bass and accordion and replaces them with Anthony Davis’s programming for which you might want to break out the folk glow-sticks.

Horses also get a mention in the languidly paced ‘Bogey’s Bonnie Belle’, a much recorded bothy ballad about impregnation out of wedlock and the class system divide popularised by Scottish Travellers, here featuring O’Kane on tenor guitar, Ross Ainslie on whistles and moody Moog provided by Duncan Lyall. Apparently, when she was young Rusby’s family had a Staffy named after the song, which leads nicely into the swayalong title track. Another traditional song set to a new tune, celebrating the inspirational power of the vine in promoting poetry and song that namechecks Diogenes, Plato and Democritus it also harks to wine-fuelled family singsongs and, who knows, may well have been the inspiration for Monty Python’s ‘Philosophers’ Song’.

The first original number comes with ‘Until Morning’, a twinkling I’m by your side lullaby of sorts essentially about how it’s always darkest before the dawn, followed by the two covers, first up being a rousing reading of Thompson and Swarbrick’s ‘Crazy Man Michael’ from Liege and Lief, although fiddle is conspicuous by its absence, substituted by whistles, Moog and programming. The second is a rather more left field choice, being an emotionally plaintive take on Oasis’ ‘Don’t Go Away’ featuring just Rusby and O’Kane’s tenor guitar, Rusby having first performed it on Jo Whiley’s Radio 2 show.

Co-penned with dad Steve and featuring wheezing accordion and whistles, the whimsical lurching ‘The Squire and the Parson’ is apparently based on a local folk tale involving much strong wine, a night-time coach journey and the two characters mistaking each other for a highwayman and knocking one another about.

A bittersweet mood shrouds ‘The Wanderer’, a poignant self-penned story about a man from her village suffering from Alzheimer’s who spends his time walking in search of his lost soul mate. Staying local with a dedication to the Barr Family who host Rusby’s Underneath The Stars Festival, ‘The Farmer’s Toast’ is another airy, waltzing accordion-based arrangement of a song originally published as a broadside in the early 19th century celebrating the idyllic pleasures of farming life a century earlier.

That soul-swelling sense of joy spreads over the Rusby original ‘As The Lights Go Out’, on which, joined by Chas MacKenzie on electric guitar and Sam Kelly on vocals, another anthem to hope in the face of loss, grief and doubt as she sings about facing the dawn with a smile and how “Tonight the stars are yours and mine.”

It closes though on a much darker note the self-penned ‘Halt The Wagons’ conceived as a lullaby to the 26 children, 15 boys and 11 girls aged 7-17 from Silkstone, who, in 1838, were drowned in the Barnsley Huskar Pit disaster when the coal mine shaft in which they were working was flooded in a freak storm, their bodies found with their arms around each other for comfort. Written to commemorate the 180th anniversary, it features evocative Yorkshire brass and euphonium but, more movingly, 26 members of the Barnsley Youth Choir of the same ages and gender, recorded underground at the National Coal Mining Museum of England. It’s impossible to listen to without welling up.

The booklet features quotes from three Greek philosophers, among them Aristotle who said “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” Kate Rusby bears the torch.

Mike Davies

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‘Jenny’ – live:

Lori Watson announces two new albums

Lori Watson

Scots Singer of the Year 2016-17, Lori Watson is a fiddle player, singer and composer. She has drawn on the rich tradition of the Scottish Borders throughout her artistic life, including experimental works and a PhD thesis and creative folio exploring innovation and contemporary traditional music practice. A folk musician with considerable pedigree, Lori is currently touring and recording with Boreas, Iain Morrison and several solo and collaborative projects including guesting with Kate Rusby in 2018 and she has six albums in circulation including two critically acclaimed records featuring her trio Rule Of Three. But this is Lori’s first significant song work and she is lettingus in on the process as well as the finished product.

Lori is touring Yarrow Acoustic Sessions in 2018 with Duncan Lyall on keys, harmonium and bass (Kate Rusby, Treacherous Orchestra) and Chas Mackenzie on guitar (Halton Quartet, Scott Matthews). Follow-up album Yarrow is expected Autumn 2018.

Yarrow Acoustic Sessions is the culmination of an evolving digital album –Watson’s first major song work. Growing up in the Scottish Borders, the Yarrow valley beside Selkirk has been an inspiring place for Lori and acknowledging that this unique and atmospheric area has inspired countless artists over the centuries, she has continued her own exploration of the area through song, music, folklore, history and poetry. This album is a thoughtful selection of songs brought together to convey a sense of Yarrow as Lori knows it. The songs are full of strong natural imagery and tales of our own imperfection: living and dying, growing and decaying, loving, betraying, regretting, accepting, and a kind of madness we just can’t shake.

In addition to vocals and fiddle from Watson, the album features sensitive playing from Duncan Lyall (keys, harmonium and double bass), Steven Byrnes (guitar and bass drum) and Fiona Black (accordion) as well as contributions from poets, writers and composers Hamish Henderson, Walter Elliot, Alison Rutherford, Jean Elliot, Lewis Spence, Alexander Anderson, Alison McMorland, Ed Miller and Robin Williamson. Yarrow Acoustic Sessions reflects Watson’s creative process towards a second, forthcoming, album (Yarrow) that carries these themes beyond conventional folk sounds (hinted at in ‘What A Voice (Blackbird)’.

Dark and brooding, windswept, contoured, joyful, turbulent, sparse, reflective: Yarrow is an exploration of human connections to nature and one another, through time, inspired by the Yarrow valley in the Scottish Borders.

“I’m interested in unfinished works and fragments, whether traditional or original. They’ve always been inspiring starting points for me. I’m creating and interpreting fragments; crafting something that expresses the connections between us and our environment spanning hundreds of years: and then it’s filtered by what inspires and resonates with me right now.”

“I’m very curious about nature and about our psychology; and how we connect, and make sense of, our inner and outer lives. I think this comes through in the music.”

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‘Flooers O The Forest’:

THE HALTON QUARTET – Based On True Events (Own Label HQR001CD)

This is a very nicely structured album in that it reminds me of days gone by when bands such as Nightnoise were recording for the Windham Hill record label. The combination of acoustic jazz and folk music felt fresh in a cultured way and so long as it wasn’t rammed down your throat could quite easily settle in either pigeon-hole of your CD collection. In nurturing this cross-fertilisation Adam Bulley (mandolin/guitar), Chas MacKenzie (acoustic/electric guitar), Ruaridh Campbell (fiddle) and Angus Lyon (accordion/rhodes) pave the way with sprightly tunes wrung as tightly as any well-worn cloth used by a Glaswegian Fisher-Wife and the quartet’s infused ‘world’ mix of time signatures and rhythms proves generally consumer friendly without sounding too clever or inaccessible. Personally I must admit to not being struck by the over-driven (distorted) classical guitar employed on the track “Triger Part One” (or, maybe it’s just my equipment?) but that’s a minor niggle when all of the band are obviously consummate musicians. On a final note and to prove my point, check out the flamboyant weaving mandolin patterns on Bulley’s “Balkeerie Lights”…it’ll astonish in a hearing Chris Thile for the first time kind of moment and make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck!

Pete Fyfe

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