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Kate Rusby - Life in a Paper Boat (Pure Records)
One of the things that you can almost always guarantee when it comes to a new Kate Rusby album, is that it will be well produced. There's none of the 'recorded live from the floor in ten hours' rhetoric about Kate's albums, nor is there any room for the old chestnut 'it's close enough for folk'. Kate's albums are beautiful creations and this tradition continues with Kate's thirteenth solo album to date. Reliability is a useful term when describing Kate's music; rarely, if ever, are we left disappointed after a concert or festival appearance or indeed with the arrival of a new album by the singer. Kate's voice is as reliable as her Barnsley accent, as dependable as her curly highlights and as remarkable as the musicians with whom she often surrounds herself. The old adage 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' seems to be the creed of the Rusby industry. There may be one or two adventurous musical passages here and there, courtesy of producer/husband Damien O'Kane, who has taken time to explore more ethereal textures in some of the arrangements, but Kate continues to do what she does best, that is, deliver both self-penned songs and traditional adaptations with equal command, from her own tender Hunter Moon and the poignant title song, Life in a Paper Boat, based on thoughts of forced migration, to the tension-filled arrangement of Benjamin Bowmaneer, the sprightly reading of The Ardent Shepherdess and the sublime closer Night Lament. The album bristles with sonic and lyrical delight and features one or two special guest appearances, notably on Only Desire What You Have, which finds Union Station stalwarts Ron Block on fine form on banjo and Dan Tyminski swapping the vocals he usually shares with Alison Krauss with little noticeable difference. If that wasn't enough, there's also Michael McGoldrick conducting his usual magic on whistles. Recently, and perhaps most notably at the Underneath the Stars Festival and the Cambridge Folk Festival, Kate and her band concluded the shows by dressing as super heros, complete with blue capes and masks, performing Big Brave Bill, an uplifting song about a Yorkshire Tea-drinking miner from God's own country. Listed as a bonus track, Big Brave Bill concludes this selection of songs, complete with fine brass arrangement recalling the fine summer days by the bandstand in the parks of Barnsley. Take Kate's advice and get kettle on and enjoy this lovely album.