Ruth Notman and Sam Kelly – Changeable Heart

Album Review | Pure Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 5/5

The Mansfield-born, now Derbyshire-based Ruth Notman and Bristol-based Sam Kelly have effectively pooled their respective talents to present a mixed set of traditional, contemporary and self-penned songs, on this their debut duo album, together with the help and assistance of a handful of select musicians, including Josh Clark, Anthony Davis, Ross Ainslie and Damien O’Kane, who also produced the album. Often, upon its arrival, we instinctively know that a new album will take several runs through before we get used to it; this is known as ‘grower’ and it certainly has its place. Then there’s the sort of album that comes along and is an instant and immediate winner, Ruth and Sam’s album Changeable Heart is one such album and grabs you from the first note.

That first note in this case, together with following few bars of “Bold Fisherman”, appears to echo Kate Rusby’s familiar sound, which is either coincidental or more likely due to the fact that the song, together with the rest of the album, was recorded in Kate’s Pure Records studio, with her husband at the controls. Once these two highly distinctive voices are heard though, something quite new and refreshing comes through. The title song superbly demonstrates the duo’s capacity for collaboration, something the two musicians are hardly new to. Ruth has worked with a string of co-conspirators such as Bryony Bainbridge, Saul Rose and Hannah Edmonds and Sam’s list of collaborators is seemingly endless, notably The Changing Room collective with Tanya Brittain and his own Lost Boys band. Together though, this duo works extremely well with some astonishing results, notably the romping “The Cunning Cobbler” and the jointly written title song “Changeable Heart.”

For those with a healthy respect for traditional songs, “My Lagan Love”, “Caw the Yowes” and “Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill” really couldn’t be in better hands, two of those hands delicately tinkling the ivories in a most dreamlike way. Ruth’s own “As You Find Your Way Home” is a welcome addition to her own songwriting repertoire, accompanying herself on piano accordion, a newish departure for the singer, whose years of hearing Saul Rose’s melodeon in her left ear has obviously done her no disservice whatsoever. As the cover design suggests, this album is all about love and the songs certainly live up to that notion and nowhere better than in the chorus of the duo’s gorgeous reading of Paul Brady’s “The Island”, the song that closes the album, leaving us with only one burning question.. when can we expect the follow up? A lovely, warm and uplifting album.