Kate Rusby: 30 Happy Returns

English folk singer Kate Rusby previously released both a 10 and a 20 album to mark her years as a musician. (20 was reviewed here on its release). Now comes 30 Happy Returns, a new album to commemorate and celebrate three decades of music making.

The new album has a generous 16 songs, including bonus track ‘Secret Keeper’ a song featuring the Royal Northern Sinfonia and commissioned by Newcastle Gateshead Initiative for the Great Exhibition of the North. The rest of the album contains revisits to earlier glories and some new arrangements as well as contributions from a variety of guest singers.

Two things are immediately apparent. The first is how Rusby’s sound has subtly changed over the years in a natural development to embrace more instrumentation with the appearance of electric guitars, drums, Moog, and synths. The other is that no less than eleven of these tracks are completely original songs despite her reputation as a purveyor of the traditional. The original compositions stand up very well and are testimony (if any were needed) to her evolution as a songwriter.

Once criticised for a lack of adventure, there can surely be no complaints about any of this. The influence of husband, fellow musician, and producer Damien O’Kane would seem to be one of the reasons. The appeal of Rusby’s amazing voice and her way with a song is never compromised. However big they are, the arrangements always fit perfectly, and the guests never overwhelm. She could probably sing the phone book (if such books still exist) and sound compelling but the songs are also the stars.

‘We Will Sing’ features Ladysmith Black Mambazo in a South Africa/South Yorkshire collaboration (see video). The traditional ‘Fairest of All Yarrow’ returns in a busy revitalised arrangement with cornet and flugelhorn driving it along. The glorious ‘Let Me Be’ is almost pure pop and has Rusby sharing vocals with KT Tunstall. And the new ‘Blooming Heather’ (with Sam Kelly) easily surpasses the version on her Awkward Annie album. 

In her notes she says: “By nature, I have never been ambitious, just rolled along with the world hoping not to get flattened! There have been highs and some lows, thankfully the lows are far outweighed by the happy sunlit highs! I have been given awards and accolades, two honorary doctorates, a Mercury Music Prize, opportunities to play with musical heroes. I have shyly rolled along with it all, always thinking Do they actually mean me? Perhaps they’ve got this wrong and they’ll realise before it’s too late!!”

This new collection of songs will not just please her fans but also offers many rewards for anyone who cares to listen. Regardless of her professed lack of ambition, this is another step forward for Kate Rusby and for her team at the Pure Records family business.

30 Happy Returns is out now on Pure Records.


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