I am a sucker for well-produced, folk-poppy Americana with good female vocals. When the promotional email for Ruth Moody‘s new solo album The Garden landed, it was never going to take much to convince me to order a copy. By the time I’d listened to the samples on her website I was seriously considering breaking with habit and downloading it from AmazonMP3 rather than wait for the CD to show up. In the event I managed to find the patience and ordered it just before I took off to Prague.
People who skip to Ruth Moody-penned songs on Firecracker, this is the album you’ve been waiting for. [People who have no idea about either Ruth or the (appalling pun warning) Wailin’ Jennys should check them out]. It has a delightfully welcoming opening track, the kind that draws you in and summarises all that is to come; Moody’s usual two-pronged thematic mix of spiritual/thoughtful stuff and more personal material is neatly defined, and as a title track it serves as an intro to something of a concept album, an idea borne out by the artwork. For those of us familiar with Moody’s work in the Jennys, the album comes as a pleasant surprise; it’s great to hear her liberated from the constraints of a band setting and stretching her songcraft over a whole album of her own, helped by a raft of guests of which more later. It’s more impassioned than her Jennys material; “Cold Outside” is part-’let’s cosy up by the fire’, part-’skip that, let’s go to bed’, almost as if Moody is prepared to tread more personal territory on an album under her own name. “Travelin’ Shoes” has flat-out the best chorus I’ve heard since, well, that HoneyChild album I raved about two weeks ago, and has joined my summer driving with the windows down playlist. At times it’s pared right down to an instrument (at various times, Moody plays piano, acoustic guitar, ukelele and banjo) and a single voice, a welcome kind of sparseness if you’re used to hearing her voice in the trio. Given the space, it is a fragile, delicate voice full of vulnerability.
It always helps when an album is sonically gorgeous, and The Garden inhabits much the same warm, layered acoustic space as the Jennys albums, no doubt helped by (Jennys producer) David Travers-Smith at the helm. Nicky Mehta and Heather Masse both guest, as do most of Crooked Still and various other talents. There’s some fantastic electric guitar playing on the more radio-friendly stuff, and layers of acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin and uke on the quieter songs.
– Tom Sweeney