APTLY for a record called Ghost, Barnsley folk song thrush Kate Rusby's new album has rather ghosted in under the radar.
It was launched at Kate's inaugural Underneath Stars Festival at Cannon Hall Farm in South Yorkshire and the Cambridge Folk Festival, then made available through the Rusby family empire's Pure Records website and digitally. Its general release followed on August 4, without the customary raft of reviews in the national press. Yes, the media has had its eye almost solely on another Kate, the unexpected second coming of Kate Bush, but Rusby usually gains plenty of column inches.
What's more, Ghost is a landmark album in a career that stretches to more than 20 years now. Kate unquestionably lost a key component when John McCusker took his fiddle and flute elsewhere and it has taken a while for the need to stretch out musically – a demand made almost monotonously from this parish – to be met by Kate and her musician husband Damien O'Kane.
Jointly occupying the producer's seat (a delicate balancing act no doubt), they have overseen a subtle shift in the Rusby template. Acoustic folk on accordion, banjo, bouzouki, double bass and guitar is still her default position for 12 traditional airs and Rusby originals, but "sonically the album heralds points of departure" on her first all-original studio set since 2010.
This is not to suggest Kate has had her "Judas" moment and done a Dylan by converting to electricity, and nor will she ever be boundary-breaking in the manner of Kate Bush, but Ghost does present a "fresh new sound that experiments with effects and electric guitar sounds”. This is most apparent on the stand-out opener The Outlandish Knight , with its echoes, and the ghost song Bonnie Bairns.
Elsewhere, Kate is on more familiar ground, switching between sad (The Youthful Boy, I Am Sad, The Night Visit, After This) and the jaunty (We Will Sing, Three Jolly Fishermen, Martin Said, Silly Old Man); story-telling songs, often in the language of the great songbooks, often of acts of folly .
The game-changer, however, is Kate accompanying herself on piano on the closing title track. More please.