By Earle Hitchner
Kate Rusby is photogenic, with light-brown ringlets framing a softly radiant face that has prompted some critics to call her "the sweetheart" of England’s folk scene.
But such a label misses the substance below the surface, for it is not how the 26-year-old Yorkshire singer looks but how she sounds that has won over lovers of folk music worldwide. Whether on the Irish traditional ballad "As I Roved Out" or on Arkansas singer-songwriter Iris DeMent’s "Our Town," her dusky alto pulls listeners in through its confessional intimacy.
"It’s the story that draws me to a song," said Rusby, speaking from the home in Barnsley, southern Yorkshire, that she and her fiancé, Battlefield Band multi-instrumentalist John McCusker, share. "Old ballads are my first love, and I use a lot of ballad and old song books to find songs for recording. One thing I like to do when I’m touring is visit a town’s secondhand book shops and look for ballad books stuck in some musty corner. Sometimes books don’t even have a tune for the words, so I have to make one up if I like the story and want to sing it."