She left it late but Kate Rusby might have stolen the prize for best Christmas album of 2011 with the entrancing While Mortals Sleep.
The Yorkshire folk-singer has form when it comes to Christmas music, having released the festive folk collection Sweet Bells in 2008. While Mortals Sleep follows the same template, offering traditional South Yorkshire carols, which might not be identifiable as the same classics you sang at school.
Cranbrook, for example, sets the homely lyric of While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks to the rousing Yorkshire tune familiar from On Ilkley Moor. The rendition of Little Town Of Bethlehem is more recognisable, although Rusby’s clear and chiming vocal is better than anything you’ll hear at a nativity.
There’s little churchy about these carols. Rusby’s instructions are to listen by the fireside with a pint of something cheering in your hand. The muted brass and strings give the album the feel of a provincial town square on a chilly evening, with the notes echoing off the cobbles, and chestnuts roasting on a nearby stall. It’s blissful festive stuff, infused with a suitable note of wistful melancholy.
With Rusby, the sadder the song the better, and it has to be said that she sounds fairly forced on the clunky jollity of Kris Kringle. If you can keep a dry eye during the powerful The First Tree In The Greenwood though, it’s official: you are the Grinch.
It’s the indispensable soundtrack to Christmas 2011, and plenty of future festive seasons too. It already feels like a classic.