Show of Hands and Kate Rusby

The Church of England - - ENGLAND ON SUNDAY - Derek Walker

Simp­son, Andy Cut­ting and, from the States, BJ Cole. Ex­pect this re­lease to make a huge im­pres­sion at the next Ra­dio 2 Folk Awards. At the gen­tle end of folk’s spec­trum, all but one song of Kate Rusby’s 20 is re-worked from past al­bums and each in­cludes a guest or two this time round.

Acous­tic, melan­cholic and drum­less, it would be easy to write this down as a col­lec­tion in need of more spark, but Rusby has made the project an ex­er­cise in re­fine­ment.

The first disc would be worth the money on its own. A cul­tured mix of acous­tic in­stru­ments cush­ions Rusby’s gor­geous voice, her clear and breathy tones cud­dling each word she sings.

Although Paul Weller’s raw vo­cal style on the one new song jars with the del­i­cacy of most of this re­lease (even the Grimethorpe Col­liery Band ap­pear in soft­fo­cus) many other guests – such as Eddi Reader, Richard Thompson, Chris Thile, Sara Watkins and Nic Jones – blend and har­monise with unerring pre­ci­sion.

Stuffed with high­lights, this un­der­stated project high­lights what folk does best: time­less tunes sung by breath­tak­ing voices. While plainly an ideal way in for new­com­ers, it still of­fers sea­soned fans some treats that they will be play­ing for many years. What was it about 1992 that sparked so much tal­ent? From op­po­site ends of the folk spec­trum, both Show of Hands and Kate Rusby cel­e­brated 20-year mile­stones a cou­ple of months ago.

Show of Hands’ hour-long Wake the Union (which does not have a bad track) al­ter­nates their typ­i­cally gritty English ap­proach with Amer­i­cana. Main song­writer Steve Knight­ley de­scribes it as “a jour­ney through the heart of two land­scapes united by a com­mon tongue and mu­si­cal her­itage.”

The English stream flows mostly with folk’s sta­ple topics of death, be­trayal and fam­ily strife, ex­cep­tions in­clud­ing the glo­ri­ously af­fec­tion­ate “Home to a Mil­lion Thoughts,” about a lo­cal mu­seum. Knight­ley has a phe­nom­e­nal en­gage­ment with his sub­jects and never more than on this one.

Am­ple help­ings of banjo, do­bro, har­mon­ica, melodeon, slide gui­tar and om­ni­chord warm the al­ter­nate stream, giv­ing the songs more in­di­vid­ual per­son­al­ity.

High pro­file guests abound, in­clud­ing Seth Lake­man, Martin

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