Kate Rusby: Angels and Men
Pure Records – 24 November 2017
Kate Rusby loves Christmas. In fact, she loves it so much that this year, for the fourth time, she’s recorded a special seasonal celebration to accompany her now traditional Yuletide tour, Angels & Men. Kate’s seasonal offerings started in 2008 with Sweet Bells, when she decided it would be fitting to celebrate, and pay tribute to, the South Yorkshire tradition of carol singing in pubs rather than churches; giving those of us not blessed with a Yorkshire heritage the chance to enjoy some of the area’s unique approaches to traditional Christmas songs, as well as enjoy a few more modern offerings. While Mortals Sleep followed in 2011, and in 2015 The Frost Is All Over set the bar even higher with a glittering and accomplished collection of beautifully arranged and produced songs. There’s an added reason for a special release this year, as Kate celebrates 25 years as a professional musician. And this release is very special indeed.
The guitars, banjo and Kate’s golden voice offer a smooth start for the upbeat opening number, Hark, Hark. It’s as crisp and clear as a frosty morning in Yorkshire. Banjo supremo Ron Block is the first of Kate’s guests to put in an appearance, and there’s the warmth of Andrew Duncan’s five-piece brass arrangements to take the bite out of that frost.
Another cause for celebration is the fact that Kate’s other half, guitar and banjo maestro Damien O’Kane, has taken to the producer’s chair for Angels & Men. The result is a sound that not only provides a joyful sparkle like the opening track but also seems to relish a more sombre and reflective approach when required; exemplified by the dense atmospheres of Paradise. With the haunting voice of Damien’s electric tenor guitar, a shifting mist among the barely perceptible breeze of Moog from bass player Duncan Lyall. Add Josh Clark’s percussion and programming and it’s a piece of mediaeval magnificence that really makes the most of the natural melancholy in Kate’s voice.
Returning to the more lively traditions, Sweet Chiming Bells rejoices in an upbeat pace, brass harmonies and the beautiful sound of Nick Cook’s diatonic accordion. Nick’s accordion is a welcome feature of the album and provides the sweetest of harmonies for Rolling Downward, Kate’s gently tumbling reworking of a traditional American hymn. Hot on the heels of Rolling Downward comes the more familiar charm of Deck The Halls, in which the brass builds beautifully verse by verse, with Aaron Jones’ bouzouki adding to the joy among Josh’s perfect percussion. Absolutely stellar.
Just as familiar, and every bit as special is the atmospheric elegance of See Amid The Winter Snow. Always a big, impressive favourite at carol concerts, on Angles & Men the song has all the spine-tingling breadth of sound, but with a more subtle approach from frosty electric guitar a deep, bassy drone like a great voice rumbling in the distance, and a wonderful cascade of brass and electric tenor guitar, like a frozen waterfall in thaw. Kate’s own song, Let the Bells Ring, marks the passing of the festivities at the turn of the year and proves her worth as a song writer just as much as the title track of The Frost Is All Over did two years ago. Anton Davis on piano provides a soft opening for a gentle dance that grows to an epic, orchestral crescendo.
Kate Rusby and friends always leave plenty time for fun at this time of year, of course, and who better to provide the album’s first chuckle than Norfolk’s (probably) Chris Sugden? The younger half of The Kipper Family wrote The Ivy And The Holly as a response to the seasonal popularity of two plant species that seem to have nothing to offer beyond aesthetics. Kate’s arrangement is a delightful comic turn. There’s plenty more to enjoy in another similarly light-hearted festive inclusion. David Myles’ Santa Never Brings Me A Banjo shines in all sorts of ways, and especially in the interplay between Ron Block’s banjo and Sierra Hull’s masterful mandolin. Richard Thompson’s We’ll Sing Hallelujah enjoys a reworking that lifts the song from soft vocal and quiet acoustic guitars to bigger, wider, more jubilant sound.
The merry bass and soft jazz guitar of Let It Snow make you wonder why Kate’s never recorded this Sammy Cahn & Jule Styne classic before. Gently kissed by warm brass and lightened by children’s voices it’s a golden moment on the album and a reminder that the Rusby Christmas is always a family affair. And on that note, the album’s closing number sees Kate’s Yorkshire super-hero make a special seasonal appearance in the magical Big Brave Bill Saves Christmas. Bill came to life in bedtime stories for Kate & Damian’s own wee angels Daisy & Phoebe and made his first studio outing in 2016’s Life In A Paper Boat. His action-packed Christmas adventure is a resounding delight.
Kate Rusby clearly loves Christmas as much as she loves being a musician. Angels & Men is her 15th solo album in a sparkling 25-year career. For many fans her occasional Christmas releases, and especially those special Christmas tours, are the musical highlight of the year; and it’s easy to understand why. Blessed with a peerless voice, possessed of a remarkable talent for arranging both contemporary and traditional song, and surrounded by musicians of the highest calibre, with Angels & Men, Kate Rusby offers the very best musical backdrop anyone could hope for this Christmas.
Angels and Men is out now on Pure Records (Yorkshire) Ltd
Available on Cd and Vinyl. Order via the Kate Rusby Store
See Kate’s Christmas tour dates below including a Live Stream on 20 December which can be watched from around the world. Kate is also performing at Celtic Connections on 31st January.
Kate Rusby Live Dates
01 December – The Sands Centre, Carlisle
02 December – Hull City Hall, Hull
03 December – Victoria Theatre, Halifax
06 December – Cambridge Corn Exchange, Cambridge
07 December – Sheffield City Hall, Sheffield
08 December – Leeds Town Hall, Leeds
09 December – Liverpool Philharmonic, Liverpool
12 December – St David’s Hall, Cardiff
13 December – The Forum, Bath
16 December – Birmingham Town Hall, Birmingham SOLD OUT
17 December – G-Live, Guildford
18 December – Barbican, London
19 December – Theatre Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
20 December – The Sage, Gateshead
20 December – CHRISTMAS LIVESTREAM TICKETS Watch From Around The World 🙂 BUY TICKETS
31 January – Celtic Connections, Glasgow
For more dates and ticket links, please visit: katerusby.com