By Allan Wilkinson for Northern Sky Music Magazine
Making my way through the Greystones pub in Sheffield up to the ‘green room’, which is in effect an upstairs bedroom at the top of a steep and winding staircase, Boo Hoo promoter Simon Hughes introduced me to a founding member of the popular Canadian all-female Americana trio Wailin’ Jennys. The Juno-winning songwriter Ruth Moody, who has just embarked on her first solo tour with her own small band, whilst the Jenny’s enjoy a brief hiatus, had already done her sound check and was casually hanging out with her band. As is always the case, the actual physical person is quite different from the artist we know through publicity shots or the tiny speck we see on stage as part of the Jennys. Up close, Ruth Moody has an engaging personality, is thoroughly attentive and is effortlessly sweet in nature. I could go on about her piercing blue eyes, but for the sake of political correctness, not that all that nonsense ever usually bothers me, I won’t.
As a songwriter, I need not hold back on the praise, for Ruth has a rare and gifted talent. Ruth may not have followed her siblings by studying a specific stringed instrument, but soon developed a highly personal skill with her songwriting, the songs of which provide a perfect vehicle for her rich and highly textured vocal range. Showcasing songs from her debut solo album THE GARDEN, Ruth presented a handful of well-crafted songs tonight at The Greystones, from the title cut The Garden and Cold Outside, to the sublime Winter Waltz and Ruth’s ode to Townes Van Zandt, Travellin’ Shoes. Although the set was filled with one great song after the other, there was nothing quite as heart-stoppingly gorgeous as the sublime Within Without You, not to be confused with the George Harrison song of a similar name.
Joined by her ‘man-boys’ Adam Dobres on electric guitar, Adrian Dolan on fiddle, mandolin and mandola and Sam Howard on bass, the band provided an empathetic backdrop for the songs to rest, whilst each of the band members stepped forward to reward the material with one or two tastefully performed solos. There was also a moment during the set where Adrian and Adam took the lead on a set of jigs, mixing one of Adrian’s self-penned tunes with both Irish and Cape Breton material.
With the almost obligatory Richard Thompson song, Waltzing’s For Dreamers, Ruth played pretty much original material throughout, either from her own repertoire or the Wailin’ Jennys prolific back catalogue. During the course of the set, Ruth alternated between guitar, banjo and accordion with a brief spell on the bodhran. During the penultimate song of the set, Ruth invited on stage a young man called Paul from the audience to play along on the washboard, the type that is worn as a metal breast plate, bringing a taste of Louisiana and in particular Lafayette to South Yorkshire, with one of Ruth’s comparably up-tempo songs The Mermaid Lounge. Finishing off with the banjo-accompanied We Can Only Listen, amazingly in tune after the spectacular tumble the instrument took during the previous song, the set unfortunately came to an end.
With support from the cleverly-named Chesterfield-based quartet Grassoline, the Greystones once again attracted a sell-out mid-week audience defining the venue as a crucial centre for music in Sheffield.