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Once upon a time, bridge drugs were the enemy of every parent. Pot and whipits, the Reagan-era authorities said, bought users a one-way ticket to ruin. A breath of laughing gas today implied a needle tomorrow; a roach clip under the mattress suggested the crack pipe would soon follow.

Naturally, these warnings made bridge drugs incredibly enticing to most teens. As disappointed adolescents soon discovered, though, you could smoke all the pot you wanted and never get your hands on anything as excitingly stupid as cocaine or heroin.

It's too bad that no one's talking about bridge drugs anymore, because it's still a helpful concept, especially in the world of music. British neo-traditionalist folk singer Kate Rusby is a prime example. With her silken voice and her dulcet steel-string touch, Rusby has been hailed by everyone from the BBC to Bonnie Raitt as the great hope for the folk music industry.

Such hopefulness comes from Rusby's tremendous potential as a bridge singer — an addictive conduit who can seduce mainstream audiences into trying out that oft-neglected, import-priced thing called “traditional music.” Unlike hard-line folkies with their dusty repertoires and narrow vision, Rusby includes her own heartbreakingly lovely compositions on her albums, as well as the works of contemporary songwriters like country warbler Iris DeMent and clever tunesmith Richard Thompson.

Rusby's range of musical interests and her luminous touch with a ballad make her a perfect bridge for those who appreciate the beautiful simplicity of British folk music but are turned off by ye olde-fashioned aires its mainstays put on. A warning for the weak-willed, however: One night with Kate Rusby and you'll be hooked for good.

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