Sunday, April 3, 2016

Kate Burke and Ruth Hazleton - Declaration (Australia 2015) [320]

Kate and Ruth, two of Australia’s most respected folk musicians, have been performing as a duo since 1998 – and yet they’re something of a best-kept secret. They now emerge from an eight-year family-raising sabbatical following their last CD (Summer’s Lonesome Tale), with this excellent new offering. Still intact are the duo’s trademark spinetingling vocal harmonies and a level of consummate musicianship that delivers a subtle and intricately woven accompaniment with minimal resources, where every stroke, note and nuance counts. Additionally, Kate and Ruth continue to favour material that’s often challeng ing in its subject matter. Also like its predecessor, Declaration closes with a Dylan cover – this time the tradition-inflected Lay Down Your Weary Tune, which receives a matchless, fluid contemporary interpretation here.

Repertoire-wise, Declaration is a more rounded collection than its predecessor, with just six of its eleven cuts being traditional in origin. The remainder comprise three covers (the aforementioned Dylan, plus Martha Scanlan’s Little Bird Of Heaven and Martyn Wyndham-Read’s setting of Australian lyrical poet John Shaw Neilson, a contemporary of Henry Lawson), plus two notable original compositions which showcase Ruth and Kate’s increased songwriting prowess. Kate’s contribution, The Freeze, inspired by an EAnnie Proulx short story, is a tender description
of intense but unmanageable love, whereas Ruth’s Hearts Of Sorrow is a lament cum-call-to-arms for our times.

Declaration is also a leap forward from Kate and Ruth’s previous albums in terms of its greater clarity of focus, matched by the extraordinary degree of light and shade brought out by Luke Plumb’s (Shooglenifty) magnificent production, which conveys the duo’s special qualities with remarkably little intervention (some bouzouki/mandolin and only very occasional studio effects).

Ruth and Kate’s uniquely fresh interpretations of traditional song remain a cornerstone, and they retain their ability to communicate a complex viewpoint which can make the listener jettison preconceptions. Katy Cruel and the Lomax-collected Father Adieu are especially vitally managed, as is the perennial allegory Queen Of Hearts, whose ominous inevitability is well caught in Ruth & Kate’s measured reading (hear it on this issue’s fRoots 55 compilation).

Throughout the disc, the duo’s acutely observed realisations and arrangements are a model of precision and intimate, intricate simplicity. Declaration is a real gem.

David Kidman

1. The Declaration 04:02
2. Katy Cruel 03:56
3. Queen Of Hearts 07:00
4. Waly Waly 05:34
5. Bleezin' Blind Drunk 04:26
6. Father Adieu 05:06
7. The Freeze 05:22
8. Little Bird of Heaven 03:06
9. Hearts Of Sorrow 03:52
10. Dean Younk A Gernow (Young Man From Cornwall) 05:28
11. Lay Down Your Weary Tune 04:36
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