Kate Rusby: Hourglass

Summary

Format: CD

Genre:  Folk (trad, vocal)

Tracks: 11

Playing time:  46 minutes

Availability (out of 3): ***

Related website(s):  http://www.katerusby.com

My rating: 10/10

I like…  Kate’s natural voice, poignant lyrics, minimal arrangements, the combined sound  instruments, tunes, and Kate’s voice

I’m less keen on… Nothing really

__________

I first came across Kate Rusby in a guitar magazine. A few months later she was scheduled to perform a gig nearby. I booked a ticket and decided to sample some of her music beforehand. I settled for this, her first album.

 

Who?

Kate Rusby comes from Barnsley, Yorkshire. Prior to her solo work she had worked with Celtic girl band The Poozies, and also recorded an album with Kathryn Roberts.

Unusually, quite a number of people who never thought they liked folk music have discovered her and found her music engaging.

She sings in a natural manner and in an undisguised (but uncontrived) Yorkshire accent. She has frequently testified to liking tragic love songs, and her early albums testify to this!

Sometimes she comes across a traditional song whose tune she does not know, and writes one. She is also able to write a song that sounds all the world like it’s been doing the rounds for generations.

 

The album

comes in a jewel case with a four-page booklet along with some nice photographs of Kate, and with brief notes on the songs, presented in a rather nice script-looking font.

The most prominent musicians are fiddle player John McCusker, flute and whistle player Michael McGoldrick and diatonic (button) accordion player Andy Cutting. These three have recorded solo albums and performed and recorded with other folk musicians, and John McCusker and Michael McGoldrick frequently grace the acclaimed BBC Transatlantic Sessions. I think that John McCusker’s playing and arranging skills lend an additional magic to Kate’s early albums.

It contains 11 tracks and plays for 46 minutes.

In an interview Kate said that this album had a certain naivety about it; I think that’s true, but perhaps that’s part of its charm.

 

The tracks

Sir Eglamore

will confirm the prejudices of some non-folk lovers with its refrain “Fa-la-lanky-down-dilly”, but in fairness it is a light-hearted song about a valiant knight and a large and unpleasant reptile with “a plaguey hide that could the sharpest steel abide..”

I like Ian Carr’s flat-picked guitar introduction where he plays notes off the main beat. To me, the backing and instrumental breaks by Messrs Cutting, McCusker and McGoldrick are quite splendid here (and on the other tracks, too).

As I Roved Out

is a sad dialogue, set in Napoleonic times when, apparently, financial incentives were offered to single men to take the place of husbands with land who were away fighting – all to ensure that agricultural production continued. The song relates the words of a young lady and her former sweetheart as they encounter each other one day.

I like the way that Kate sings the words with conviction and feeling, but allowing the words their impact rather than lacing the melody with embellishments. Tony McManus plays a masterful though understated guitar accompaniment to this, and his guitar has a sonorous, non-mellow sound to it that I feel adds some starkness to the sound.

Michael McGoldrick plays a flute solo that tears at my heartstrings whenever I hear it, with soaring high notes and mellow low registers.

Annan Waters

I’ve crossed the River Annan a number of times en route to holidays in south-west Scotland, but thankfully, unlike the young man in this song, I have lived to tell the tale!

Call me unromantic, but I’d be reluctant to attempt to swim a raging river to visit my true love. I realise, though, that there was a time without Interflora, texts or social media, so a chap’s choices were somewhat restricted!

“The sides are steep, the water’s deep,
from bank to brae the water’s pouring,
and the bonny grey mare, she sweats for fear,
she stands to hear the water roaring.”

To me, the Uileann (Irish) pipes on this song immediately create a sinister sound at the outset, and throughout, against Kate’s gentle piano playing. John McCusker plays a slow, soulful fiddle break that I think is quite magical.

 

A Rose In April

I love the way that Kate phrases some of the lyrics on this sad ballad, and the sound production has added just a hint of reverb to give her voice a slight edge. I also like the sound of her guitar on this. Its altered tuning and drone-like quality add a sombre air to an already tragic song and tune.

Perhaps more striking still is that this is an original Kate song that sounds all the world like an old traditional one.

 

I Am Stretched On Your Grave

Another cheery song! Tony McManus adds some crisp guitar accompaniment to this song about a distraught lady who refuses to leave the grave of her lover. I like the minimal arrangement of this. The guitar only comes in part way through and only some percussion (“bodhran”,  Irish hand-held drum) accompanies Kate’s singing in the early part.

 

Old Man Time

I love this Kate original, contemporary rather than traditional in feel. The imagery of “Old Man Time” is, I think, beautifully explored and developed.

“This old man has an hourglass
for every soul on the land.
Oh, Old Man Time, I have seen mine,
it’s the one with the fastest sand.

No sooner is it turned,
back through the glass it’s churned,
I’m wishing I could have each hour again.
With a gentle hand he tends the sand,
oh, Old Man Time is his name.”

Kate’s guitar on this sounds slightly drone-like and mysterious, and Michael McGoldrick plays a powerful, soaring solo on flute that is just gorgeous.

 

Drowned lovers

Kate apparently learned this from the great Nic Jones, one of her musical heroes (I heartily recommend his “Penguin Eggs” album and a stunning guitar part on a song called “Canadee-I-O”).

It’s another tragic love song in which both lovers drown. To add to the jollity their respective mothers contrive the tragedy, the one deceiving and the other a curse-invoking witch.

Kate’s singing of the man’s determination to risk all sends a shiver down my spine, and the solo by Michael McGoldrick that follows it makes the hairs on the back of my neck rise:

“Oh, roaring Clyde, you roar so loud,
your streams are wondrous strong –
make me a wreck as I come back,
but spare me as I’m gone…”

A top-notch song, this, and my favourite of the whole album.

 

Concluding thoughts

There isn’t much more I can say apart from to thoroughly recommend this album which I rate 5-stars.

I think that many people besides “folkies” would enjoy this, especially if they enjoy female vocal music and/or poignant lyrics. The lyrics, tunes, arrangements and playing really make this an outstanding folk album with a strong Celtic feel.

 

__________

Although this is a non-profit-making blog, I am anxious to credit illustrations:

 

Section “Who?”:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00zzq37

Annan Waters: http://www.glaswegian.info/Images-of-Scotland/Images-of-Scotland—The-River-Annan-near-Hoddam-Castle-Dumfries-and-Galloway.htm

Old Man Time: http://www.seasonalwisdom.com/2011/12/new-years-guide

 

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Author: mostlyacousticsteve

My musical interests are mainly (but not exclusively) “folk” and acoustic blues music. I aim to publish a post about every two weeks. Although I'm in my 50s I'm new to blogging - please bear with me. My other interests are playing acoustic guitar, photography and wildlife.

1 thought on “Kate Rusby: Hourglass”

  1. I’m sorry, I’m not sure how I managed to miss this post before! I’d not come across Kate Rusby before but I’m on Google as I type and I’ve been listening to “Who knows where the time goes”; she really does have a sweet voice and the track is very subtle and calming. Thanks for the great review, I’ll be looking forward to listening to the Hourglass album next over this week 🙂

    Like

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