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Song after song of her blissful voice and a band absolutely on the top of their game. The combination may just leave you in slack-jawed bewonderment.
I suppose the thing that really resonates from the experience of listening to "Little Lights" is that you have an over-riding sensation that the songs were all written two hundred years ago and you've heard them throughout your entire life. You haven't, and five of these were penned within the last few years by Rusby herself. But there's a timelessness here (in its most faithful meaning - absolutely defying chronological positioning) which fosters a weight of history, a sense that they're all part of your life.
It sounds pretentious, I know.
But hear me out. The album flows perfectly and there is no weak track. And just when you think your sweet-melancholy can't be any further rung from you, she finishes off with "My Young Man", recorded with the brass of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band. The song just staggers your legs and knocks the wind from your chest. No fancy production but, building from an a capella opening, the most subtle and moving arrangement imagineable. It's the song that nails the fifth star to this review.
I don't like to award five stars to anything but as the album winds up and I've got this knot in my chest, I just can't not.
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Kate Rusby specialises in heart-breaking songs, whether "traditional" or originals - of which more later. This distinction is actually quite hard to make, as some of Kate's songs sound traditional but are her own compositions - a testimony to the way that she has imbibed folk music until it permeates her completely! In some cases she takes a traditional song but sets it to her own tune, either because the original tune is now lost, or simply because she wants to breathe fresh life into it.
This is at least as good as her two earlier albums. It is hard to articulate the appeal of her music. Her singing is very natural and, I suppose, understated - her voice seems to allow the songs to speak almost for themselves. I am reluctant to make comparisons, but the emotional power of her singing seems to "work" in much the same way as that of Sandy Denny.
It is hard to choose highlights. "Matt Hyland," "Withered and died", "My young man"... My absolute favourite is easily stated, however. "Who will sing me lullabies" is a heart-rending tribute to one of the backing singers on her first album. Here you see the skill of Kate's songwriting and singing as she invokes the angels who "heard my heart breaking, for it rang through the skies.." From anyone else a line like "The Man in the Moon, oh, he can't help but cry.... for there's no-one to sing me lullabies.." would sound corny, but from Kate it sounds just right, and unspeakably sorrowful. Even her vocalisation of the word "lullabies" gets right inside you... Many of her songs have the same effect!
I can't really say any more... just get this album and delight in it!Read more ›
It is very difficult to pick out tracks from this. The up-tempo numbers such as 'I courted a sailor' and 'William and Davey' show off the band at their best; subtle, sophisticated and truly uplifting arrangements. The 'slower' tracks are all sublime, from the haunting 'Let the Cold Wind Blow' to her own two beauties, 'Who will sing me lullabies' and 'My young man'. It is almost impossible to listen to these latter two without being moved to tears. If there is one reservation it is that all these songs sound even better now in live performance, more testimony to the fact that Kate Rusby is contributing massively to the organicness of the tradition.
She is a rare talent and this is a beautiful record. How fitting that the cover photograph shows her with a halo of stars. Little Lights but a big, big star.