By Thom Jurek for www.allmusic.com
These Wilder Things, the second solo album by Ruth Moody of the Wailin’ Jennys, is both apiece and apart from her 2010 debut Garden. While her lyric concerns seem similar on the surface and the music is still rooted in contemporary folk, this ten-song collection ranges farther and wider. Acoustic instruments still dominate the landscape and Moody plays many of them, but the stylistic diversity here is a further step down the road. She wrote all but one song here, a playful, acoustically driven cover of Bruce Springsteen‘s ’80s hit “Dancin’ in the Dark,” but her reading of it — sans pulsing keyboards and desperate masculine voice — makes it fit seamlessly with her songs here: they all seek connection with something larger, in life, love, and spirit. The bluegrass gospel in “One Light Shining,” with dobro from Jerry Douglas and backing vocals by Aiofe O’Donovan, projects that bigger reality inside a small frame. So is the minor-key, broken love song “Pockets,” with silvery guitar and backing vocals from Mark Knopfler. This is Moody at her darkest; one can feel her protagonist’s desolation in the grain of her airy soprano, and Knopfler‘s grainy baritone comes from the ether as the absent lover sings with the narrator across time and space. The title track features the trace of a Moog by producer David Travers-Smith, but it merely underscores Moody‘s piano and determined voice. Her protagonist is addressing her fear and doubt, and lets them know solemnly that she will move past them into a wide-open future. Travers-Smith‘s flügelhorn and e-horns add a ghostly gospel affirmation in the backdrop. Her bandmates help out with backing vocals on the sweet country love song “One and Only,” with its slow chugging guitars. Mike McGoldrick‘s low whistle and John McCusker‘s fiddle provide traditional Celtic flavor to “Life Is Long,” which reinforces its simple yet profound poetry of passage and return. Closer “Nothin’ Without Love” finds her on banjo in this aching, jazzy, romantic paean that juxtaposes economic and emotional poverty; it aches to transcend both. Moody‘s gaze on These Wilder Things is indeed still an interior one, but it’s more confident and more sophisticated musically and lyrically. The protagonists in these beautiful songs accept what they encounter, and truthfully and variously recount that adventure to the listener with an open heart.