Should Kate Rusby be regarded as a national treasure? Life in a Paper Boat is her fourteenth studio album and marks twenty four years on the road. In itself that probably doesn’t warrant the National Treasure tag, but surely her unfailing ability to be consistently brilliant makes her a contender? Then there is her string of Christmas albums that have cornered the market in folky seasonal cheer. Her voice is pure, intimate and as comforting as a woolly blanket on a cold winter’s morning. She is as Yorkshire as can be, the Barnsley Nightingale, holder of a traditional flame that is safe in her hands.
But let’s hold off encumbering Rusby with that twee and faintly condescending accolade just yet. For whilst she undeniably produces albums that are pure comfort food, Kate is still evolving as an artist. She seduces us into believing she is safe and comfortable whilst gently pushing and testing the boundaries of her musical world. Kate’s biggest asset is that she knows what works for her, so that we always hear an assured artist rather than one who is casting about trying to find a new musical suit of clothes to wear.
Life in a Paper Boat marks a growing musical partnership with her partner Damien O’Kane, someone who really knows how to tease new feeling and passion out of traditional material. On his most recent album Areas of High Traffic he took songs that had become somewhat tarnished by over familiarity and turned them into something altogether new and refreshing. Rusby shares this knack with him in re-imagining trad material, never sounding maudlin or shopworn. As a producer O’Kane teases out new directions for the music and vocals to dance around, resulting in a rich listening experience.
But of course it ain’t all Trad, Kate’s compositions sparkle with the wit and compassion that is her stock in trade, not least of which is the first single from the album Big Brave Bill. This tale of a Barnsley superhero started life as a story she made up for her kids, but the tea swilling superhero seems to have grown into a life of his own. ‘The hero who thinks Yorkshire/The hero who drinks Yorkshire’ runs the chorus with a wink, I think it’s as much about Kate as Bill.