(5 / 5)
When an established band or artist decide to add a covers album to their catalogue, it can often end up sounding like it’s a case of running out of ideas, songwriter’s block for original material, or simply fulfilling a contractual obligation.
A bunch of tired old songs that have been done to death already, and most never sounding anywhere near as good as the originals.
Usually the press blurb accompanying the promo copies to reviewers, declares that these are the songs and artists that inspired and influenced this band or artist.
That this is their heartfelt tribute to those songs and artists, and this is “the album I/we have always wanted to make”. Yada yada yada…
So, when I was told British folk star Kate Rusby’s latest solo album was to be an album of a dozen covers, I reserved judgement, but admit I feared the worst!
Before the physical CD arrived, I had access to a digital version of the single, “Manic Monday” – The Bangles classic – and I also saw the fabulously fun video, which features Kate’s young daughters.
I was very, very pleasantly surprised as to how this now indelibly imprinted original song was such a snug fit for a British folk artist in 2020. Kate was 12 when this first came out. It must be decent as Susanna Hoffs, lead singer of the Bangles, contacted Kate to tell her she loved this new version.
I then found out Kate’s third single from the album would be the Taylor Swift annoyingly hooky pop smash “Shake It Off”. Surely this would be a car crash moment…No worries, it’s a belter.
The CD arrives. First off, the 1986 Bangles song, and I was reminded just how good this cover is and how classy and effortless Kate’s voice is.
At the end of the dozen tracks, my face ached from smiling! Each song was as though Kate had written it for herself. There are no duffers here.
The natural Yorkshire accent is so endearing. Her dreamy tone and note perfect delivery, plus her innate phrasing, adds the folk element to the different genres covered here. The whole thing is, well, bloody lovely.
The idea began a few years ago when Kate was rehearsing for the Jo Whiley BBC Radio 2 show. Jo invites guests to sing a cover of their choosing, plus their own material. Kate covered the Oasis song “Don’t Go Away”.
On her second visit to the show she chose The Cure’s “Friday I’m In Love”, and revisits that song on this album, (second single from the album), and it is just wonderful. So warm, so happy, so perfect.
It dawned on Kate back with the Jo Whiley covers, that as a folk singer she was used to re-interpreting existing songs, but usually much older songs. Songs handed down through generations.
So, re-interpreting newer songs and songs from the non-folk world was not a big stretch. It’s all storytelling to music, after all.
She put the Oasis cover “Don’t Go Away” on her 2019 album, “Philosophers, Poets & Kings”, and played it live on tour. The reaction was strong. So, she decided on a whole album of covers. And here it is….
This album was made at her South Yorkshire home studio during lockdown, with husband, multi-instrumentalist Damien O’Kane engineering and playing most of the instruments, plus the odd part from a band member recorded remotely.
Her kids Daisy Delia who is 10 and eight-year-old Phoebe Summer get in on the act, acting as Kate’s very own mini Bangles on the backing vocals for “Manic Monday”. A song penned by Prince. They also sing BVs on the last track, “Three Little Birds”. Other Rusby family members sing the ‘choir’ part on the final track here.
Kate has the ability and skill to modernise folk music while still staying true to its sanctity and tradition. Appealing to those people who may well say they don’t usually like folk music. Thus helping to keep the genre alive and relevant. “Hand Me Down” is a valuable weapon in her armoury towards that aim.
It is oozing with the sheer joy and love of music – and making music with no hunger for fame, fortune or any other agenda. This is a happy, creative family’s true labour of love.
Her highest chart position in the UK album chart so far was # 22, for the 2012 album “20”. My money says this one will go even higher – and if it doesn’t, write to your MP and demand answers in the House! * See STOP PRESS, below…..
Kate has released 17 solo studio albums in the last 23 years. The debut was “Hourglass” in 1997. There’s also a bunch of collaborative appearances, a stack of tracks on compilations, a handful of Christmas albums, a slew of singles and an EP.
They say a great singer serves the song and not the other way round. Kate does just that here writ large. And I say again how remarkable it is that these songs all fit so tightly, like they are her own and she has been singing them for decades.
“Manic Monday”, opens the set followed by Coldplay’s 2016 song “Everglow”. Kinks legend Ray Davies penned “Days”, which was sung by the wonderful and much missed Kirsty MacColl in 1988.
US Americana legend Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had A Boat”, (taken from his 1987 album “Pontiac”), is a song Kate first heard sung by fellow Barnsley folk singer Dave Burland at Barnsley Folk Festival.
Her dad was doing the sound mix. It prompted Kate to ask her dad to teach her some guitar chords, and to go dig out the track on Lovett’s album on cassette, from her local library.
I remember this track when I reviewed Lyle Lovett and his Very Large band at Hammersmith Odeon in London back in the day. The same week I also saw k.d. lang at the same venue. Kate gives us a very neat version here.
An obscure song next, “Maybe Tomorrow”, the theme to the 1970s TV show “The Littlest Hobo”, about a stray dog. Many of you have that tune in your head right now, don’t you?
Kate learned her first chords on a big red Guild acoustic guitar, which her dad had borrowed from playwright Willy Russell, a family friend going way back. Here she covers a song he wrote, “The Show”, theme song to the TV show “Connie”.
A real wow moment is Kate’s inspired cover of the Cyndi Lauper classic “True Colours”. She really connects emotionally with a song that has a trillion cover versions. But this has got to be my favourite cover of this big song. Dare I say it may well even be better than the original!
There are some iconic artists you are best leaving alone when it comes to covering classics. Steve Wonder, Aretha Franklin and on that long list of legends would be this fella, James Taylor.
His timeless 1969 track “Carolina On My Mind” gets the Rusby treatment here. Not a foot wrong or note out of place with her interpretation.
I enjoyed her version of the Paul Young 1982 number two UK hit, “Love Of The Common People, which was actually first recorded by American vocal group The Four Preps in 1967.
Written by John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins who also penned “Son Of A Preacher Man”. Nicky Thomas had a number nine UK chart hit in 1970 with his reggae version. Kate’s version stands up well.
The final cut is a lovely version of the Bob Marley classic “Three Little Birds”, from 1977. A song I always find myself singing along to, every time it comes on the radio.
Kate’s version is a sweet tribute to the original – and it has a bit of a backstory. On Mother’s Day this year, just before the Pandemic lockdown, Kate and her daughters made beaks and wings at home, wore them and then knocked on her mum’s door (who was self-isolating), and sang this song to her.
Since then, this song is the first music heard in the Rusby household every day. Not missed a day yet, via virtual ‘DJ’ Alexa.
Robert Nesta Marley wrote: “Every little thing is gonna be alright”. In these current testing times, a spin of the 12 tracks on this charming album will go some way to making us believe that sentiment…If only just for these 51 fantastic minutes. There’s always the repeat button!
By Simon Redley
- STOP PRESS: As I predicted in this review written and published on 9th August 2020, some six days before the album was released and some 13 days before today’s Official UK Album Chart was issued (21st August), “Hand Me Down” has achieved a higher chart position than the # 22 spot she landed back in 2012. Today it is straight in at # 12, her highest chart position from 17 albums across a 23-year recording career. Congratulations Kate and team. Well deserved.
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’