IM Recommended Listening
Philosophers, Poets and Kings – by Kate Rusby
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Kate Rusby, from Barnsley in Yorkshire, England, has been singing since she was a child. Born into a family of musicians, she took up the guitar, piano, and violin, and sang in local folk festivals, eventually becoming the lead vocalist in the groundbreaking female Celtic band, the Poozies. She’s gone on to record seventeen albums, including her latest, Philosophers, Poets and Kings. She has won numerous awards for her music, and is known in the UK as “Queen of the Folkies.”
I’m an unabashed fan of Celtic folk music, and one of Rusby great strengths is her ability to fuse both traditional and original songs. Her voice is angelic, the arrangements poignant, the songs firmly based in the narratives of family and clan, stories passed down in home and pub. Kate’s music is, in fact, so rooted in family, that it has become the Rusby cottage business, with parents and siblings managing her tours and their label Pure Records from their home in South Yorkshire.
You can watch a wonderful documentary on YouTube about Kate Rusby, her music, and their family music business. It reveals a refreshingly normal, ordinary person and the good folks around her who have found a way to incorporate splendid music into their life together while remaining grounded in community and relationships.
Her new album has won early rave reviews, and I highly recommend it. One reviewer wrote:
Like all of Rusby’s albums, “Philosophers, Poets & Kings” moves seamlessly across the emotional spectrum, from jaunty, comic tunes like “Jenny” and “The Squire and the Parson” to “Halt the Wagons,” one of the album’s most moving tracks. Rusby wrote “Halt the Wagons” in commemoration of the Huskar Pit Disaster, when, in 1838, 26 children lost their lives in a South Yorkshire mine, leading to legislature that prevented children under the age of 10 from working underground. The song is gorgeous in its simple, subdued, yet affective brass instrument arrangement, featuring the harmonizing chorus of flugle horn, French horn, cornet, and tuba. In order to give voice to the children who lost their lives, Rusby sings with the Barnsley Youth Choir. Another deeply moving song on the album, “The Wanderer,” is an original ballad honoring a man in Rusby’s village who suffers from Alzheimer’s.
Here are two tunes from the record, which explore both ends of that emotional spectrum.