Kate Rusby, Hand Me Down (Pure Records) ****
SUDDENLY, 2020 has brought a spurt of cover-version albums.
Throwing Muses’ Tanya Donnelly in tandem with fellow New Englanders The Parkington Sisters, for one. Gillian Welch & David Rawlings’ All The Good Times, for another. Molly Tuttle’s quarantine collection, …But I’d Rather Be With You, for a third.
On November 13, Marika Harkman will release Covers, her collection of “songs she is obsessed with”, while Lambchop will uncover Trip. Meanwhile, mask-dismissing Noel Gallagher wants to make an album of Burt Bacharach and The Smiths covers…definitely, maybe, wait and see, after a career of paying tribute to The Beatles and Slade in Oasis and beyond.
Most successful in the UK charts has been Kate Rusby’s home-made delight, Hand Me Down, peaking at number 12, the highest placing of her 25-year career at the forefront of folk.
Folk musicians have always handed songs down the generations, blowing the dust off the songbooks of yore to revive past works, but you would not call those restorations ‘covers’, whether in the work of Sam Lee or indeed Rusby.
In 2011, North Easterners The Unthanks reinterpreted the left-field songs of Robert Wyatt and Antony & The Johnsons on Diversions Vol 1, but folk loyalist Rusby has gone to the heart of pop, rock, even reggae, for her Lockdown DIY recordings.
This is not as radical a step as you might first think, and nor is it a novelty. Barnsley nightingale Kate covered The Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society for the theme tune to Jennifer Saunders’ Jam & Jerusalem sitcom and duetted with Ronan Keating on the 2006 top ten hit All Over Again.
After performing Don’t Go Away on Jo Whiley’s BBC Radio 2 show, Kate’s wistful ballad take on Oasis featured on last year’s Philosophers, Poets And Kings and became a concert favourite. A return visit to Whiley’s studio elicited a mournful reading of The Cure’s Friday I’m In Love, now one of the stand-outs on Hand Me Down.
“As a folk singer, it’s what I do: reinterpret existing songs,” explains Rusby. “The only difference is that usually the songs are much older.”
Not only very old songs are handed down through the generations, however, so too are favourite songs of any age, of any generation, she says. “Songs are precious for many different reasons.”
Those reasons are outlined in Rusby’s detailed sleeve notes to her intimate home studio recordings with guitar and banjo-playing producer-husband Damien O’Kane and daughters Daisy Delia and Phoebe Summer on sporadic backing vocals in between home-schooling sessions.
Some are chosen from childhood or teenage memories (The Kinks’ Days, but from Kirsty MacColl’s sublime version; Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours), two much-covered songs you might have predicted, rather more than Maybe Tomorrow (The Littlest Hobo theme song) or The Show, from family friend Willy Russell’s musical Connie.
Covering a song is as much about what you uncover as you cover, prime examples here being Coldplay’s Everglow, Lyle Lovett’s If I Had A Boat and in particular “role model to her children” Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off, newly revelling in O’Kane’s swing-time banjo.
Nothing evokes Lockdown more than the opening Manic Monday, Prince’s song for Kate’s teen favourites The Bangles, slowed and turned to acoustic melancholia for not-so-manic days of longing at home, away from the city buzz. Add South Yorkshire vowels, and who can resist.
Covers albums have an erratic history, more often a dangerous minefield rather than an orchard full of fruit ripe for picking. Kate joins the latter list, ending with a ray of perennial summer sunshine, Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, as Hand Me Down becomes balm for fretful, fearful pandemic times.
“I’ve always had overwhelming urges to cheer people up at times of sadness,” she says. “I don’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse, but it’s always been part of my genetic make-up.”
Kate, it is a blessing, “singin’ sweet songs of melodies pure and true,” as Marley put it.
Win signed copies of Kate Rusby’s Hand Me Down
COURTESY of Kate Rusby and Pure Records, CharlesHutchPress has five Hand Me Down CDs, signed by Kate, to be won.
Question: Who wrote Manic Monday, the opening track on Hand Me Down?
Send your answer with your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org by November 18.