Kate Rusby Underneath the Stars
Underneath the Stars is Kate Rusby’s first studio album in three years, and even if it had taken her ten, it would have been worth the wait. From the opening song, “The Goodman,” Rusby will have you under the spell of her beautiful and powerful voice. It’s rare to hear anyone sing as well as this, with effortless range, a charming lilt and complete clarity.
Standout tracks include the adorable “Let Me Be” when Rusby expresses the frustrations of being pursued by all the local men barring the one she truly fancies. Her songs all have their own intricate stories behind them. In “The Goodman” a wife is cuckolding her husband and the lyrics are a humorous tongue-in-cheek take on infidelity. Many of the songs describe the lives of people from other centuries including damsels, blind harpists, and boatmen. But not all the music is a reworking of the past. “Falling” is a timeless ballad that describes and sounds the way falling in love should feel in any century.
Rusby has the confidence of a singer who is effortlessly talented. Even when the tune or lyrics are traditional, she makes each piece her own. The arrangements are simple and the album unfolds gracefully and pleasingly. The record is Celtic sounding without using any predictable Celtic hooks as a crutch. She has set herself apart from an overcrowded pack of imitators in the Celtic folk genre.
Rusby has a slightly haunting quality that intensifies on her more poetic songs. She closes the album with the prayerful “Underneath the Stars,” which distantly echoes Dylan Thomas. She sings, “Underneath the stars I’ll meet you…And there beneath the stars I’ll leave you/Before you go of your own free will/Go gently.” Underneath the Stars is available January 13 on Compass Records.
Josh Kelley For the Ride Home
Lately twenty-three-year-old singer/songwriter Josh Kelley has been getting noticed for his sensitive and romantic guitar music. The young Irish-American from Augusta, Georgia has been in heavy radio and talk show rotation, and for good reason. His major-label debut album, For the Ride Home is a quiet blend of easy music. Kelley’s voice softly conveys the attractions and difficulties of love. Listening to the record, you can imagine him strumming in the back of a coffeehouse while everyone in the room enjoys his songs.
Kelley’s influences include Dave Matthews and James Taylor and he certainly shows an ability to write a lovely ballad. Although his opening song “Amazing” has been getting all the attention and airplay, “Home to Me” is the standout single of the album. Many of his songs are best in an acoustic rendition because his shy voice is sometimes overpowered by louder instruments and overproduction.
The album has a Southern feel to it, with an eclectic combination of sounds from the cello to the banjo. Although some songs, particularly “Follow You,” could be categorized as country, the cohesive feeling is an American record that feels like a worn flannel shirt. You won’t hear anything groundbreaking on this record, but you will find yourself floating comfortably through it. As refreshing as it is to hear a young singer distinctly lacking in angst, sometimes Kelley could use a greater amount of fire and passion in his delivery.
Kelley can carry a theme as well as a tune. For the Ride Home denotes, as was his intention, that the album be put on for a car journey at the end of the day. Most of the songs touch on the subject of traveling and reaching someone. In “Small Town Boy” Kelley entreats the listener, “Let’s get out of here” and in “Travelin'” he complains about being led about and misguided by a girl who set up mazes and games for him, but on “Home to Me” he is happy to pursue her, singing “Cause it’s you that I’m running to, baby/It’s you that I’m feeling for lately.” For a first album gathering the momentum of breaking into the mainstream, Kelley has certainly decided where it is he’s going.
For the Ride Home is available now on Hollywood Records. ♦