LIFE IN A PAPER BOAT - KATE RUSBY
Release Date: 7th October, 2016
Location: Barnsley, Yorkshire, UK.
Band: Kate Rusby (vocals), Damien O'Kane (Guitar, Electric Tenor Guitar), Duncan Lyall (Bass, Double Bass and Moog), Nick Cooke (Diatonic Accordion), Steven Byrnes (Bouzouki), Steven Iveson (Electric Guitar), Josh Clarke (Percussion and Drum programming), Donald Grant (Fiddle), Magnus Johnston (Fiddle), Triona Milne (Viola), Laura Anstree (Cello), Dan Tyminski (Vocals), Ron Block (Banjo) and Mike McGoldrick (Whistles)
Record Label: Pure Records
We continue our look at very strong contenders for next years BBC Radio 2 Folk Album of the Year with another fantastic gem, Life In A Paper Boat by Kate Rusby. Produced by husband Damien O'Kane and boasting a fabulous collection of very talented musicians including special guests from one of my favourite bands Union Station (Dan Tyminski and Ron Block), this is one of Kate's best albums to date. It contains six Kate originals and six new arrangements of traditional songs. This 12-track album is also full of Damien's vibrant musical trademarks ranging from subtle and tender arrangements to flamboyant and full bodied soundscapes. This album certainly has the 'wow' factor. At times the feel really reminds me of the famous 'Transatlantic Sessions'. Kate's pure vocal is one of my favourites in the UK Folk World and this album showcases it perfectly. It's a voice which makes you drift away to a magical place. Few artists can rival Kate's ability to bring traditional music into the modern world, to perfectly revitalise and infuse old stories and to write stunning new songs that become instant folk classics.
The album begins with the beautifully arranged 'Benjamin Bowmaneer' a traditional satirical ballad about the 100 Year war. This version has a sublime celtic vibe. Enraptured with patriotic zeal as England goes to war, a poor tailor makes a horse from his sheer board, bridle bits from his scissors, and a spear from his needle (with which he spears a flea) and a bell from his thimble (to ring the flea's funeral knell). In folklore, the tailor seldom played a brave and noble part. 'Nine tailors make a man', says the proverb and a popular children's rhyme tells of four and twenty tailors frightened by a snail. The amusing 'Benjamin Bowmaneer' seems to perpetuate the myth in folk music against tailors, who were often the butt of a joke.
One of the stand-out tracks on the album is Kate's gentle and tender composition 'Hunter Moon', A wonderful love song and tale of unrequited love between the sun and moon. The moon pursues the sun but he can never catch her as they circle each other. Don't be too surprised if this song picks up a lot of awards, it's beautifully written and arranged. Also known as a sanguine or “blood” moon, the term “Hunters Moon” is used traditionally to refer to a full moon that appears during the month of October. "Say not her name to me, for i live in the shade. Briefly I see her as she starts to fade. In silence we pass, our path is well worn....I silence I wait for the dawn".
With traditional lyrics and new tune from Kate 'The Ardent Shepherdess' is a tale about passionate and enthusiastic Janie who tries to trade thirty sheep for one kiss from her sweetheart Damon. The title track 'Life In A Paper Boat' is a song dealing with the current crisis where people are fleeing war torn areas for a better life for themselves and their families. Kate was moved to write this heartfelt song after watching the news and seeing them risking their lives in flimsy tiny boats. The song focuses on one particular woman on board Kate saw holding a tiny baby and the empathy she felt as a mother herself. "A boat made of paper, it will set sail with me and oh how I've grown weary. that boat of shame it took me now I'm far from free and oh won't you stay near me.....this bundle that I carry is worth more to me than life.....There's only me to hold her now that I'm no more a wife."
Another one of my favourites on the album is the very sage 'Only Desire What You Have'. This great song also includes guest appearances from Dan Tyminski (vocals), Ron Block (Banjo) and Michael McGoldrick (Whistles). 'My alter is the breath of life, for wisdom grace and live I strife. While evil games the greedy play, there's only nature I obey".
A traditional based tender love song with some new lyrics and a new tune from Kate is 'Hundred Hearts'. Sublimely arranged with Kate's beautifully emotive ethereal vocal floating over the music. "If we had a hundred years, you could keep your hand in mine. If we had a hundred years like trees in the garden we'll stand entwined'. Dan Tyminski and Ron Block guest on a second song on the album the celtic favoured and self penned 'The Mermaid'. Dan is probably one of my favourite male vocalists and his harmonies with Kate are spine-tingling. Lovely banjo solo from Ron and I really like the underlying percussion on this one. Another traditional song arranged by Kate and Damien is the 'Pace Egging Song'. Pace is from the Latin word for Easter, and pace egging was the practice of collecting eggs and other eatables by touring the houses and farms in one's locality. Little groups of men would either perform a pace egg play (like other seasonal plays, a semi-ritual enactment of death and rebirth) or would dress as some of the characters and present themselves simply with a song. The egg is also taken as a handy symbol of life in many parts of the world, especially in association with springtime when the crops show their first signs of life. The very atmospheric 'The Witch Of Westmoreland' was written originally by Archie Fisher and recorded on his 1976 album. Archie commented about the song "The ingredients are a mixture of legend, superstition and ballad themes brought into focus by the Lakeland painter, Joni Turner. As far as i know, the female centaur is not a creature of mythology and this role of witch disguise was suggested by the tales of antlered women with bodies of deer seen wading in the shallows of the lakes in the moonlight. There are many pleasant and hospitable inns in the Lake District". 'I'll Be Wise' is a beautifully written and tender unrequited love song. Gorgeous string arrangements too. The last of the traditional songs on the album is 'Night Lament' with some new lyrics and a new tune from Kate. Another stunning high quality song.
Finally, tucked at the end of the album as a bonus track is 'Big Brave Bill' from Barnsley, a Yorkshire superhero. It's just marvellous, a witty, fun and clever song, celebrating Yorkshire, tea and ordinary working people. "The hero who thinks Yorkshire. The hero who loves Yorkshire. The hero who drinks Yorkshire tea all the time" .......get kettle on!