Kate Rusby's previous albums have always featured a mix of traditional British folk songs (plus the occasional cover) and a selection of her own songs that, for most people, are virtually indistinguishable from the 'trad. arrs.' with which they rub shoulders. However, with 'Make the Light', all songs are written by Kate; moreover, she seems to be (temporarily?) redefining her metier as one of 'singer-songwriter' - albeit, one whose folk credentials still remain intact. You could hardly describe the music here as 'mainstream', but there is a slight shift in that direction. The music may not be authentic enough to appease some members of the 'meat and potatoes', open-toed sandals fraternity - but it is light-years away from the homogenized 'product' which regularly rolls off the conveyor belts of to-day's corporate music factories.
Kate doesn't disappoint with her vocals; she isn't a powerful singer, but her plaintive and fragile voice gradually permeates your consciousness - and there is always the added bonus of her Yorkshire accent. The album can be enjoyed also for its instrumental detail - and although she has changed her regular band members, these are top flight musicians and the playing is exemplary. There's the usual blend of acoustic guitars, double bass and diatonic accordion - other featured instruments include bouzouki and tenor banjo; there are string arrangements (1st./2nd. violins, viola, cello) on 4 tracks, and a few tracks have light percussion. Also, on 2 tracks, Kate has brought back musicians from the Grimethorpe Colliery Brass Band (first heard as an ensemble on her Christmas album,'Sweet Bells').
The songs are mainly slow to medium tempo - the only up-tempo one to speak of is 'The Wishing Wife'; some comments about my favourites :
THE WISHING WIFE - A wife who is less than enamoured with her husband's disposition. The wishing well duly grants her wishes - the outcome is unexpected, but more than acceptable; colourful lyrics with some dark humour. Up-tempo song with super accordion and banjo playing to the fore.
LET THEM FLY - Kate takes a not too subtle swipe at our politicians; basically, the song's message is that they lack credibilty, and 'you can't trust them as far as you can throw them' - although she conveys this message with far more eloquence. Mid-tempo song with a gentle lilt, includes a half minute bridge featuring the playing of various brass band instruments (cornet, flugelhorn, tenor horn, euphonium and tuba).
LATELY - Melancholic slow-tempo waltz which wouldn't sound too out of place on a Patty Griffin album. Rhythm is provided by double bass and very light percussion; accompaniment is from tenor guitar, bouzouki and stunning accordion from Julian Sutton. Spine-tingling vocals from Kate.
GREEN FIELDS - A slow tempo song which, lyrically, isn't one of the album's strongest. However, it is beautifully sung by Kate, and the playing (tenor guitar, bouzouki, double bass and accordion) gets as close to 'acoustic perfection' as you are likely get. It's a 5 minute song, and about half of this time is devoted to instrumentals only.
WALK THE ROAD - A medium tempo yet stirring song with an optimistic theme. It's the second song featuring the brass ensemble and the horn arrangement is quite lovely. Kate is joined by hubby Damien O'Kane who provides some fine harmony vocals (the album's only song with harmony vocals).
To sum up : Kate plays it safe with an album of music characterized by familiar sounds; but many music lovers, who appreciate those qualities often missing in much of to-day's popular music, will find it rewarding - Kate's palette is one of pastel shades rather than primary colours. The album has a preponderance of songs with subtle melodies and slow-ish tempos - a couple more up-tempo songs would have been welcomed. Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy about the music - be it the vocals, the playing or the songs.
If you like Kate Rusby, you might like this also : Threads by Ruth Notman