[17 March 2006]
Kate Rusby, reigning queen of the traditional English folk song, knows how to sing a story. On her latest, The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly, she weaves gold into folklore, making music that seems anachronistic, yet makes the listener want to join her on a journey to another world. While this site offers the latest thoughts on everything modern from grime to Mario Kart DS, Kate Rusby offers us a classic voice, some thoughtful instrumentation, and the promise of a beautiful day.
First and foremost, Rusby sounds as if she could sing nothing but folk music. Her voice, and especially her use of it, well suits a song style that is expressionistic without being overpowering. The way she sings serves to highlight how many vocalists out there choose merely to get the words out, without simple regard for the sound. One could get lost in her warm technique—she neither over- nor under-sings.
And then there are the songs. This time around, Rusby has written seven of them, with the remaining five being some form of traditional composition (whether overall, or in lyrics). Her original songs blend beautifully with the older selections; her writing style is simple and poetic. Anyone who has spent time listening to folk records of any sort knows how hard it is to take the old and new, side by side, and craft it into a whole. Rusby, whose past records spoke to the difficulty of this undertaking, has finally jumped the line. The album’s excellent sequencing is part of it but would be nothing without the obvious growth spurt in her compositions.
The promo materials for The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly claim the title is a reference to Kate Rusby’s fear of airplanes. Nowhere is there mention of an overall theme, but perhaps that is because the listener must hear it for themselves. Just about every song speaks of a woman who is stuck in a situation. Whether it’s love, death, or fate that has kept her in one place, there she is with nowhere else to go. This theme becomes powerful as Rusby’s songs veer from straightforward storytelling to a more impressionistic narrative. Top that off with the unnerving angelic quality of her voice and the carries power: power to accept one’s lot in life, power to transcend death in order to relive the story.
It goes without saying that The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly is a specific style of record that may not appeal to everyone. That should make it only more special to those who will appreciate it with its limitations. Kate Rusby has stuck to a formula all these years, and is improving upon it. To those who wish to delve into the precision of genre-music, you’d be the better for hearing this record.