When a couple attends a Hollywood tearjerker on their first date, they run the risk of enduring an awkward silence following the film. Nobody wants to blubber and sniffle in front of a near-stranger. If tears are shed in the dark theater, somebody better make a lighthearted joke on the way out, to transform the mood from sadness to levity.
A similar transition occurs at the end of Kate Rusby’s third solo album, Little Lights. The devastatingly mournful “My Young Man” is followed by two minutes of silence. Then the gentle hidden track, “The Big Ship Sails”, rises up to wash those tears away. The jovial sounds of a group singalong are most welcome at that moment.
“My Young Man” is the lament of a wife who must say goodbye to a husband dying from a disease he developed while working as a collier. Rusby, a South Yorkshire native who comes from a family of coal miners and folksingers, was born to write and sing such tragic fare. The tune opens with two a cappella verses, and concludes with a forlorn brass arrangement by Sandy Smith. Rusby’s intimate, pristine soprano is backed by instrumentation that is subtle without being too spare.
Little Lights is a quintessential British folk album; if you’re looking for a rapier, a fair maiden, or a good white steed, you’ve come to the right place. The captivating opener, “Playing Of Ball”, exemplifies Rusby’s aesthetic. Backed by lilting acoustic guitars, she sings of a disapproving father who kills his daughter’s young lover: the anguished woman vows to travel to “some far country” where she will mourn and love no more.
Rusby operates squarely within the folk tradition, even when selecting modern pieces to cover, such as Richard Thompson’s “Withered And Died”. Old-school purists and folk newbies will both be impressed. O, ye could roam for twelve months and more, on both sides of the great wide sea, and not find a finer work of art with more pure beauty.