About once a year or so my wife's extended family gets together in Nashville, TN for a singing (or a sangin' as they say in those parts.) We gather in one living room or another, pass about the old church hymnals and sing. We sing old spirituals. We sing new songs that look difficult and fun. We sing everybody's favorites. We sing to praise. We sing to encourage. We sing for the fellowship. Mostly we sing for the joy of the song.
Kate Rusby's new album, Awkward Annie reminds me of those singings. She sings from the heart. She sings for the love of singing. I can't imagine that this album will break the charts. I don't suspect we'll be seeing Rusby on TRL anytime soon. This isn't an album designed for market share or to set trends. It is music at its purest, played for the simple pleasures only song can bring.
It is a mix of old, worn traditional songs, originals and one incredibly pleasing cover of the Kinks. All of the songs, traditional and new sound as old as the hills of Ireland and are just as beautiful. Rusby's voice is a pure as a snow melted stream, and perpetually tinted with sadness. Even on lyrically silly songs like the title cut there is an unshakable melancholy that quivers the heart.
The music is spare – an acoustic guitar, banjo, a slight accordion, with tinges of strings and piano, but comes together with haunting grace and beauty. The instruments create a musical cradle which carry Ruby's ever so fragile voice in songs so gentle I'm afraid they might break as they slip inside.
On “High on the Hill” her soft, quivering voice is joined by that of Chris Thile. For a moment the addition of another voice is startling, but the two harmonize together so well it quickly becomes as it should be. As it ever was. That's the way the entire album is – full of startling new revelations and yet as old as song, as if it always existed.