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KATE RUSBY "Little Lights" Pure Records PRCD07

I reckon someone once said to Kate Rusby "Do MELLOW for me Kate". And she obliged and has been obliging ever since. Mellowness is the all-pervading tone and mood of this album, as it was of her previous ones. If say, Johnny Collins's voice is dark brown and Pete Morton's fiery red, so KR's is unquestionably mellow yellow. And what's wrong with that? Not much, when you are blessed with a voice as achingly pure as that of the "Barnsley Nightingale", and are accompanied by a Premier League of folk musicians led by her "other half" John McClusker.

Would I buy this CD? Yes I would. However I would be failing in my duty as a reviewer, if I did not say that whilst "Hourglass" and "Sleepless" represented unalloyed pleasure for me, here one or two reservations are starting to creep in.

First however, let me highlight the most pleasurable aspects of "Little Lights". The production achieves the near-impossible: it is an even cleaner and crisper job than her previous two solo albums ... which is saying something! Maybe this is because much of this CD was recorded in the new high tech studio she has just had built on behalf of her family's recording company, Pure Records. The album consists of a nice mixture of mostly the traditional and the self-penned, and whilst there is no track to blow you away, all are a pleasure to listen to. Eddi Reader provides memorable harmony on 3 tracks; however it is perhaps John Jones's harmony on "Canaan's Land" that most tellingly delivers.

The backing musicians are of course the bee's knees. I won't waste space by praising the McGoldricks and Cuttings of this world. Take it as a "given". Do such guys ever have a bad day at the office? No, I don't think they do. However there are five brass musicians who perform heroics on the final track. The informative sleeve booklet tells me that three of them appear courtesy of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band. This is most appropriate, since Kate's song "My Young Man" relates to her grandfather and the emphysema he developed working as a coal miner. Is it because my own father died of pneumoconiosis, that I related more to this song than any other? Perhaps. But whatever the reason, mentioning this track brings me to the "reservations" I expressed earlier.

When you see KR in live concert, her scatty humour and warm personality really come across. This CD cannot catch these aspects. Perhaps no CD ever can, other than a CD recorded live. Indeed, in one respect it is a good thing that such qualities CANNOT be captured: it is the best reason known to Man to get us out of our houses and into their concerts. So I can handle this inevitable "loss" between the stage performance and the compact disc; but what now begins to worry me a little is the fact that her delivery is becoming increasingly "mannered". A song's meaning is being sacrificed on the altar of "purity of tone" and "voice texture". Her tracks are all beginning to have the same - admittedly SUBLIME - "feel" to them: I reckon were she to sing an angry rap anthem or a comic ditty, they would both come out sounding Mellow Yellow.

Look, we don't need her doing an OTT Tony Blair "St Paul to the Corinthians" at Diana's funeral, but somehow we need less "laid back", and more "LAYING INTO" the meaning of the words she sings. And it is only with that very personal final track to her granddad, that somehow you become aware that for the first time on the album she's concerned with extracting every bit of meaning from the lyric.

But I have come to praise this Caesar, not bury her. For there is so much to praise. And there's no Ides of March to speak of in KR's calendar.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 44 of The Living Tradition magazine.