The latest release from folk-siren Kate Rusby, ’The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly’ is her most personal and revealing album to date. Now (in her own self-mocking words) a “sprightly old lady of 31, The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly is Kate’s sixth solo album. Her dedication to the most pure version of English folk music has transformed the genre. Because of Kate, “English Folk Music” is no longer considered a dirty phrase among fans and critics. She makes folk music for people who never thought they would like folk music. The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly is a blend of traditional folk tunes and new originals. The same graceful, timeless feel of the songs Kate digs out of dusty old books can be found in her own compositions. A casual listener would be hard-pressed to distinguish one from the other.
When Kate enters the studio, the unwavering test she sets herself is simple enough: how to make a record of music she adores. Critics who shriek for something different might as well whistle in a gale-force wind. “Some people will like it, and some won’t,” says Kate. “I’d never in a million years expect everybody to like my music. But anyone who tells me I need to change direction or whatever can bog off. This is the music I make, and I make it like this because I want to.”
Anyone who has followed Kate’s progress from her first solo album, Mercury Prize-winning ’Hourglass’ in 1997, to the accomplished maturity of ’Underneath The Stars,’ will quickly fall in love with ’The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly.’ From the infectious opener, a sultry arrangement of the traditional “The Game Of All Fours”, to the bonus track, “Little Jack Frost”, written for a BBC cartoon, it oozes quality, enthusiasm, and equal parts fun and heartbreak. Roddy Woomble from Idlewild, Kate’s current rock listening, was roped in to share vocal honors on an anguished ballad of breaking love, titled “No Names.”
Perhaps the album’s most striking feature is Kate’s development as a songwriter. Of the 12 tracks, she composed 7 of them, along with writing new tunes for 2 of the traditional ballads included on the album. Don’t get the idea that this represents a major departure. Although it may have crept up on some, Kate is no beginner at composing music. “I have written music for as long as I can remember,” she says. “In the past, most went in the bin. But there have been several of my own songs on different albums. My first love is the older, story songs. You really can’t beat a good, long murder ballad! That means most of the songs I write are story-based. I suppose that’s why they sound like traditional songs. I think ’Old Man Time’ (on ’Hourglass’) was the first I had written out of that mold, and there have been three or four since.”
The input on ’The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly’ from John McCusker, Kate’s producer and fiddle player, was crucial to her creative process. As well as playing fiddle, all manner of other instruments, and producing the album, John collaborated with Kate to arrange all its tracks. Between the two of them, they drew on the talent and passion of a brilliant team of musicians ranging from Ian Carr, ace guitarist and dab hand at table tennis (the band’s new therapy of choice when touring), to brass bandsmen from the Coldstream Guards.
After putting in the CD, many fans will take out the booklet. Once they’ve stopped gawking at the stunning artwork by former Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, will wonder about the album title.
Well wonder no more. The truth is, Kate really can’t…fly, that is. Or at least, not comfortably. Of the title, Kate said, “It just came out of my mouth one day, and it sounded nice. I hate flying as much as ever. Since the last time I toured in America, I have flown only once – a short flight to Spain when we hired a big villa for a family holiday. “It was the first time my nephews had flown, so I thought I might get carried along on their enthusiasm and not even notice that I was on a plane. They played with me lots to take my mind off it, but I still hated it.”
Kate has tried hypnotherapy, read books about planes and their safety records, but none of it seems to help. The girl who couldn’t fly feels lucky that her music can travel the world without her.