By Chris Jones
There can’t be many compliments left to pay The Garden, a first solo album from the soprano, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ruth Moody, originally released back in April 2010. The Wailin’ Jennys co-founder has already accumulated a CV worthy of a roots grandee but, although Moody’s songwriting talent has never been beneath a bushel in the band, The Garden is only her second ever solo release, after a debut EP (Blue Muse) from 2002. That an individual album has taken the best part of a decade to reach fruition suggests no lack of creative freedom in her day job with the Jennys. This is borne out by the bevy of backers who Moody accumulates over the course of twelve luscious tracks, including Crooked Still (all of them) and both her current bandfellows, Heather Masse and Nicky Mehta. This does not represent a career shift, then – rather a spot of gardening leave, time out from the trio prompted by Mehta’s motherhood. Moody must have gazed through this window of opportunity and envisaged a grassy green idyll beyond.
A month-long tour of Britain and Ireland commences in mid-January, timed to coincide with a belated UK release for The Garden, an enduring and delightful collection and one for all seasons to boot, dappled with warming and waning sunlight. Track titles like ‘Cold Outside’ and ‘Winter Waltz’, the latter longing for spring, belie a balmy tranquility that imbues a thoughtful warmth, introspective but still sociable. There’s variety aplenty, both in the songwriting and the extensive cast of collaborators. Lent the electric prowess of Luke Doucet, ‘Travellin’ Shoes’ twangs with alacrity, while ‘Never Said Goodbye’ goes against the guitar grain as a string-swept piano ballad that is dolefully entrancing.
In common with Bright Morning Stars, the Jennys’ last album, the music here is marginally more melancholy than much of her earlier work with the (evolving) trio. A greater sense of intimacy can also be perceived. Although it is a pleasant change to hear Moody’s soprano alone on several songs, a communal performance ethic nevertheless still seems integral to her mindset. ‘Closer Now’, featuring both Mehta and Masse, would not have seemed out of place on Bright Morning Stars, while stand-out tracks include ‘We Can Only Listen’, allying her own rosy vocals with co-writer Matt Peters’ gentle tones. Well-kept, not manicured, and ostensibly solo but hardly sequestered, The Garden sounds effortlessly refreshing. Elegant and tender, Moody and friends tend their patch with care and colour.
It is an accomplished artist who dispels all stresses over the course of an album, cocooning the listener in an optimistic microcosm of life and its cycles. On The Garden, Ruth Moody achieves this from the outset – the opening (title) track enough to provide emotional release, a palpable sense of de-stressing, the discharge of all worldly woes; replaced by pluck, poise and purpose. “How long have we slept?/How long have we wept?/There is work to be done/In the garden”, Moody resolves. In this demi-paradise, it would be remiss to mope.