Kate Rusby: Life In A Paper Boat
It’s hard to believe that Life In A Paper Boat is already the 14th album from Yorkshire singer Kate Rusby who has become almost a one woman English folk-roots institution. Her enduring popularity has also brought its fair share of criticism over the years from those who see her music as safe and unchanging. This new album ought to convince the doubters as it is quite simply one of the very best of her long career.
The album is fairly evenly balanced between traditional songs and originals. While her voice is as angelic as ever and the songs are treated to many of the warm appealing arrangements familiar from previous outings, there is an added edge too and an expanded sound palate that allows at various times electric guitars, moog, keyboards, percussion, drum programming and a string section. There is also brass on the playful bonus track ‘Big Brave Bill’ – about a superhero from Barnsley. It all makes for a much bigger sound than before and it works very well.
Although she became well known for her treatment of traditional material it is the new songs here that lift the album way above the average. The title song ‘Life in a Paper Boat’ was inspired by a television news story about refugees and is an empathetic glimpse into the life of a mother and baby and their perilous journey. By contrast, the equally superb ‘Hunter Moon’ tells the fanciful tale of the unrequited love of the moon for the sun.
Most remarkable – not least because she strays so far from her comfort zone – is ‘I’ll Be Wise’ a contemporary song lifted along by Damien O’Kane’s electric tenor guitar and then turned into an almost Oasis-like anthem by drumming and strings. The album is produced by Damien O’Kane who manages to bring out the best in these songs and performances.
Way back in 1995 Kate Rusby won the fRoots Critics’ Poll Best Album award for her joint recording with Kathryn Roberts and two years later was runner-up for her solo debut Hourglass. Critics no longer marvel at the rise of Rusby and her albums can get overlooked in the search for the next big thing. But Life In A Paper Boat is a superior album to either of those award winning releases. It offers a new dimension for anyone prepared to listen with open ears.
Life In A Paper Boat is released this week by Pure Records.
This video of the title track includes an introduction by Kate Rusby: