Kate RusbyKate Rusby
Album: The Frost Is All Over
Label: Pure
Tracks: 11

It's been a strange year, with an uncharacteristic dearth of seasonal offerings to brighten the gloomy wind-swept autumnal postbag - indeed, November seems to have ended almost before it's begun. So I was especially pleased to finally receive this CD, giving me my festive fix of Kate Rusby. It's her third Christmas-themed album (they come round regularly now, every couple of years or so!), and it provides further evidence of Kate's seemingly inexhaustible supply of suitable repertoire.

Kate's in good, "pure" voice once again, naturally, and the musical arrangements are just as you'd expect from this "stable" (note that suitably seasonal reference!): acoustic-based, accommodating and satisfyingly listener-friendly. Mainly due to the increased influence-cum-guiding-hand of Kate's co-producer, guitarist/banjoist (and husband) Damien O'Kane, there's arguably less of an overly Celtic flavour to this latest set compared to some of Kate's previous offerings, some tracks even possessing more of an understated soft-rock sensibility perhaps. Whatever the subtle changes, though, there's always a gently compelling musical intelligence at work, for all that the lovely intricacy of the musical tapestry is invariably much down to the deliciously blended togetherness of Kate's accompanying musicians - this crew comprising Damien (of course), Duncan Lyall (double bass), Nick Cooke (accordion), Aaron Jones (bouzouki), Steven Iveson (electric guitar), and Cormac Byrne (percussion). Added embellishments from a five-strong brass ensemble arranged by Andrew Duncan) impart a warm, quintessentially seasonal glow to the proceedings on several of the tracks.

In terms of material, Kate's uplifting seasonal menu encompasses the customary strands. First there's her sparkling and thoroughly genial treatments of what one might term cautiously exuberant carols - once again she proudly includes examples from her own native region (Bradfield, and the Mount Lyngham variant of While Shepherds Watched). Secondly Kate brings us three carols from a collection put together by Ralph Dunstan, representing a parallel Cornish tradition of pub carol-singing: these include a cheery Cornish Wassailing Song and the marvellous Dilly Carol (the latter sporting a particularly rootsy banjo-bedecked arrangement). Little Bilberry and Sunny Bank turn out to be vital treatments of Hark The Herald Angels Sing and I Saw Three Ships respectively. Kate also delivers a fresh take on Cold Winter, and a traditionally-Rusby spring-in-the-step smile-on-the-face comes free with Kate's gleeful retelling of The Christmas Goose. Then what we might call the "popular" element of the disc comes with Yorkshire Merry Christmas and the obligatory "Xmas single" gambit which quite delicately but imaginatively bounces about and rocks up Winter Wonderland (not exactly one of my favourite seasonal songs, but it makes for a reasonable interlude here). Leaving the best till last, though, is the lovely self-penned title song, which really does evoke the "reverential stillness" of the season and must count as one of Kate's most inspired compositions to date, simple and beautiful.

The album is released to tie in with Kate's Christmas UK tour, which lasts from 3rd to 20th December. With its warm glow and companionable demeanour, it should receive anything but a frosty reception!

David Kidman