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In 1992 Kate Rusby was, you fondly imagine, a nervy teenager who couldn’t have dreamed of the outstanding career that lay ahead. The notion of a gentle young singer from Yorkshire with a mostly traditional repertoire lighting up a largely moribund British folk scene and going on to achieve substantial crossover success was way off the register.
Yet here she is, in 2012, celebrating 20 years as a performer by re-imagining some of the tracks that helped speed her remarkable journey. She’s joined on this double-CD set by some high-profile chums, notably Paul Weller, Richard Thompson, Jerry Douglas, Nic Jones, Chris Thile, Paul Brady, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Stephen Fretwell and Eddi Reader.
The same thing that seduced audiences in those early days – her exceptionally tender voice – still stops you in your tracks. And while her critics point accusingly at a string of albums that are seemingly interchangeable, her innate ability to connect with a wider audience with her disarming vulnerability undoubtedly played its role in Brit folk’s unexpected rebirth through the 2000s.
Despite an inexplicably drab sleeve, the album works on several levels. It’s a fine introductory calling card for interested new arrivals, as well as an enlightened and novel “greatest hits” collection. And then there’s the curiosity of listening to her interact with the various guests, sometimes revealing a dimension we hadn’t previously glimpsed.
The Paul Weller duet Sun Grazers, for example – the only song she hadn’t previously recorded – is exceptionally good, another indication of her gradual blossoming as a songwriter.
This is comprehensively verified by the melancholic spells weaved by Who Will Sing Me Lullabies (with Richard Thompson on electric guitar/vocals and Radiohead’s Phil Selway on percussion), Underneath the Stars (with Grimethorpe Colliery Band) and the more acidic Mocking Bird, with Sara Watkins.
She even takes the opportunity to record with some of her own defining influences, like Dick Gaughan, Dave Burland and Nic Jones, the latter making his own mark with glorious harmonies on The Lark.