Folk and Roots – UK – David Kidman
Although a key founder member of the Wailin’ Jennys (who continue to go from strength to strength), Ruth’s also always been a persuasive solo performer in her own right, majoring in gentle self-penned folk balladry with more than a subtle bluegrass and old-time influence. Her first solo outing, 2002’s Blue Muse EP, has resolutely passed me by, but its long-awaited follow-up, The Garden, is a lovely collection of songs, most of which would probably fit well onto a future Jennys album project if need dictated. The opening title track sets out Ruth’s stall, with a comforting, almost hymnal feel to its deft lyrical traceries; Cold Outside, which follows, continues the mood of soft introspection, while Travellin’ Shoes toughens up the ante with a more defiant, electric-guitar-ridden backdrop and rhythm section. Relaxed country-style banjo picking ushers in the more philosophical We Can Only Listen, and a string section and piano inform the melancholy emotional climate of Never Said Goodbye. Disc highlights, however, come later, with the beautiful tenderness of Within Without You, the charming, limpid Winter Waltz, the McGarrigle-esque rusticity of Nest and the gently shimmering thrills of We Could Pretend. Throughout this collection, Ruth’s thoroughly appealing singing voice is given the finest possible grade of aural blanket by various permutations from out of a hand-picked crew of musicians drawn from all over the contemporary Americana scene including Luke Doucet, Matt Peters, Susie Ungerleider (Oh Susanna) and members of Crooked Still, together with fellow-Jennys Nicky Mehta and Heather Masse (of course!) on backing vocals, all under the general masterly guidance of producer David Travers-Smith. As far as I’m concerned this is a most satisfying record, although it’s perhaps a touch too subtly inflected for any “wow factor” reaction to set in.