Show of Hands and Kate Rusby
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