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Published: Sunday, 1/18/2004

CD reviews: Rusby disc a mix of old, new

Kate Rusby is a folk singer, but that designation is woefully inadequate to describe the richness of her distinctive voice, the often-exquisite melodies of her songs both traditional and original, and the underlying emotional quality that she brings to her work.

On this 12-track disc, her first new studio CD in three years, she works with producer and multi-instrumentalist John McCusker on a mix of her own and traditional material set to always-empathetic and restrained acoustic arrangements with instrumentation that includes guitar, bass, fiddle, accordion, and whistles.

The songs are predominantly ballads, or at least of slower tempo, and the lyrics often of love thwarted or lost - like the gorgeous "Cruel" in which a woman mourns for her love taken to sea by the pressgang. The gently swaying arrangement is the perfect match for the beautifully sad melody.

No one can match Rusby on such a song. Or on her own "Falling," its mellow rhythm embellished by fingerpicked guitar in the front of the mix, and another memorable melody and achingly beautiful chorus.

Though not all the tracks meet that standard, Rusby underscores her gifts by closing the CD with the title track. Its lush melody enhanced by a sweet horn section, the song is the perfect conclusion to a disc that cements her reputation as the foremost British folk singer/songwriter performing today.


The rough-edged, gospel-based sound of the Holmes Brothers gives the blues an entirely new shading Their voices mix silky smooth with gravel textures, while a pump organ and lap steel are occasionally put into play for added interest. The guitar work, while impeccable, takes a proper back seat to the men's vocals throughout. Wendell and Sherman Holmes, plus their buddy Popsy Dixon, have been performing their unique blend of blues, gospel, and R&B for a quarter century. Their rhythms pique your interest, then the gospel harmony voices grab hold in a rootsy combination unlike any other.


Veteran punkers The Offspring deliver a series of aural body punches on their seventh release, slamming through an invigorating set of a dozen songs that clocks in at a little more than a half hour. Breakneck punk like "The Noose" and "Da Hui" merges easily with ska, arena rock, and even the weird "When You're In Prison," that has the sound of an old 78 record. The Offspring make it all fit well, thanks to their exuberance and instrumental prowess. In an age when bands make discs that meander on much longer than necessary, The Offspring's economy and commitment are refreshing.


Perfection seems to be the buzzword for singer Tierney Sutton's latest recording, a salute to the Frank Sinatra songs - mostly ballads - that have inspired her. And blessed with a tight backup band and elegantly crafted arrangements, this performance spotlights the singer's passion, phrasing, and perfect pitch. Yet it is that perfection which makes this a flawed production, too. Possessed of so much innate talent, Sutton never seems to have to reach or stretch and loses much of the exhilaration wrapped into these very songs.


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