KATE RUSBY – 30 Happy Returns (PURE PRCO73)

30 Happy ReturnsTo mark her 30th anniversary in the music business, as she did with 20, Rusby has revisited songs from her past albums, all but three featuring special guests kicking off doing a Paul Simon with Ladysmith Black Mambazo bringing their distinctive joyous township vibe to ‘We Will Sing’ from Ghosts, then turning to The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly, Richard Hawley steps  up to duet on the reflective, Celtic-tinged ‘No Names’.

Opening with skittering percussion and introducing cornet, Sleepless yields the traditional ‘Fairest Of All Yarrow’, the first of three where she doesn’t share the spotlight and with a far fuller instrumentation than her original recording, the second being the title track from Ghosts, the original piano replaced by a shimmering clavinet-like synth giving more of a churchy feel before it gathers in power with the guitars and drums.

The focus very much on the vocal harmonies, the wondrous Darlingside join their distinctive crystal voices for the cascading scales of ‘Cruel’, the first of three from Underneath The Stars, the second following on its heels with ‘Let Me Be’ which, teamed with KT Tunstall, is both poppier and more up-tempo that the folksy original. The third, again just featuring Rusby on vocals,  is the title track which, with its circling chiming guitar notes and the keyboards evoking wintery, Christmassy peals,  is probably the most faithful to the source material.

Awkward Annie yields two back to back, the first featuring pizzicato banjo and Americana-folk star Sarah Jarosz trading verses and sharing harmonies on ‘High On A Hill’ with its echoes of ‘Down To The River To Pray’ as it speaks of the wildlife in Symonds Yat in the Forest of Dean, the other, Nick Cooke on accordion and Sam Kelly singing on the second chorus , being a rousing reading of the traditional ‘Blooming Heather’, better known of course as ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’, the latter putting in a second appearance harmonising on the lovely spare acoustic, banjo-shaded ‘As The Lights Go Out’, a remix from Philosophers, Poets and Kings.

Cooke is there again too  on ‘Only Desire What You Have’ from Life In A Paper Boat which also features Michael McGoldrick on whistle and Rory Block on banjo with special guest vocals by Dan Tyminski.  Arguably the strongest track alongside the opener, the anthemic ‘Walk The Road’ from Make The Light glows with a rousing guitar solo and powerful vocal turn by Beth Nielsen Chapman.

I’m not sure having your husband sing on three tracks qualifies as a  special guest, but Damien O’Kane duly adds to the tally with a new version of the chiming waterfall of guitar notes, lullabying ‘Hunter Moon’ from Life In A Paper Boat with twin fiddles, viola and cello, and remixes of ‘Until Morning’ and the lively ‘Jenny Extraordinary Remix’,  with Block again on banjo, both from Philosophers, Poets And Kings.

It ends, at least on the physical CD, with the bonus addition of the full length seven and a half minute version of ‘Secret Keeper’, recorded with the Royal Northern Sinfonia and previously only available as the shorter 2018 single. The guests, of course, sprinkle their own magic over proceedings, but as ever it’s Rusby’s unique, unmistakeable voice that casts the true enchantment, as it has for the past three decades and will hopefully for many years to come.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.katerusby.com

‘We Will Sing’ – official video: