Jack Rutter- Hills
Self-Released – 3 October 2017
Still in his mid-20s, Jack Rutter has already amassed a formidable reputation with Moore Moss Rutter and with the Seth Lakeman band and Jackie Oates band. With his first solo album, Jack could have used his connections with those groups and many others to pepper his debut with guest appearances from British folk’s finest. And, by doing so, attempt to draw in a crossover audience who love Seth, Jackie et al…
Instead, Jack has made a bold decision to eschew collaborations and the dynamic interplay that characterizes Moore Moss Rutter to produce a genuinely solo record. It’s just Jack’s rich, expressive voice, accompanying himself either acoustic guitar, bouzouki or duet concertina. Another decision was to record the songs live in the studio with no overdubs. The songs are almost all traditional, and more than half have a connection with Rutter’s native Yorkshire.
So, this is an album of restrictions, with parameters – a singular vision maintained from the first to the very last note. But these boundaries are not a cage, they offer Jack the opportunity to fly. And boy does he soar…
Recorded and produced by Joe Rusby, Hills is already gaining plaudits. ‘A truly captivating singer of traditional songs. Jack Rutter’s new record feels like one of the classic folk albums of the 70s,’ says Jon Boden. And he’s absolutely right, it has the confidence of an album like Nic Jones’ Penguin Eggs or Martin Carthy’s debut. But it doesn’t feel like an exercise in nostalgia or an attempt to revert back to a bygone ‘golden age’. In fact, Hills is a vital, enthralling record which I’m sure will creep into the speakers of anyone with a passion for folk, and hopefully the headphones of a new, broader audience too…
The album opens with the traditional Hey John Barleycorn which Jack learnt from The Wilsons. I’ve not heard the a cappella group’s version, but here Jack arranges the hymn to English beer for guitar and vocal. It’s a perfect opening for this self-assured album. Although recorded ‘live’, I challenge any listener to pick up a slip of the finger or unintentional crack of the voice across the 11 tracks. This is a virtuoso at work.
But it’s not an opportunity for Jack to show off, nor is it a scholarly exercise in reviving old traditional songs. It’s a welcoming album full of fascinating old stories and vignettes of life in very different times. And Jack chooses his accompaniment to fit the song: the old English hymn, Morning Trumpet – a song of longing for a better life away from this world of sin and sorrow – is given a suitably mournful duet concertina backing.
Meanwhile, I’ll Take My Dog And My Airgun Too – a simple tale of the life of a poacher and his dog – is stripped back to just Jack’s vocals. Appropriately too, as it feels like the old poacher is sat cosy in his cottage, a roaring fire and faithful dog by his side meditating in song on a life of simple pleasures.
But it’s not all laid back, The Bilberry Moors, Hatton Woods and The Banks of Sweet Dundee are driven by expertly-picked acoustic guitar. While Young Susan on Board of a Man-of-War is given a more exotic bouzouki backing, again, intricately played.
I really do highly recommend this album. Jack is a fine musician, his vocals are astonishingly mature and nuanced for a singer in his 20s, but what this album really showcases is his storytelling. It is Jack’s ability to live and breathe these songs and invite listeners to do the same that elevates this majestic work to something very special indeed.
Pre-order via Bandcamp: https://jackrutter.bandcamp.com
Photo Credit: Elly Lucas