Monday, July 20, 2015

CD Odyssey Disc 760: Ruth Moody

I’m feeling a bit out of shape lately. Not enough time at the gym, plus I’m not getting any younger. Mostly the first one though. The mind will always find excuses to avoid exercise – my latest are the very common “working too many hours” and the more obscure “healing up from tattoos.”

I need to power through the resulting inertia before I sink so deep into my couch I can’t pull myself back out. I am totally going to do that…tomorrow.

Disc 760 is….These Wilder Things
Artist: Ruth Moody

Year of Release: 2013

What’s up with the Cover? This scene looks like it is from some alternate Grimm’s Fairy Tales universe where everything is fantastical, adventurous and slightly creepy. I love it.

How I Came To Know It: I know Ruth Moody originally as one third of the Wailin’ Jennys. This is her second solo album, and since I liked the first one I took a flier on “These Wilder Things.”

How It Stacks Up: Moody has only two solo albums, this one and 2010’s “The Garden.” I’d put “These Wilder Things” second of the two of them.

Ratings: 3 stars

“These Wilder Things” is an album full of quiet beauty. Sometimes it is a bit too quiet, but even at those times Ruth Moody’s artistry shines through.

Ruth Moody has long been my favourite third of the Wailin’ Jennys (apologies to Nicky and Heather). Her voice is high and pure, her banjo playing is sweet and soulful and her songs are often my favourites on Jennys albums. Although entirely irrelevant to her music, I’d be lying if I didn’t also mention that I find her exceedingly easy on the eyes. So Ruth, if you ever want to chill and play some records, let me know. I can’t sing or play for shit, but that’s why I have this great music collection. But I digress…

Like her first solo album, the songs on “These Wilder Things” are straight up folk songs, each with a free and easy roll to them.  The production by David Travers-Smith focuses on Moody’s voice and the purity of the various musicians. He is willing to keep things simple, starting with one or two sounds and adding one or two more as the song progresses, but never overdoing it. More producers need to learn what folk music has known for years – it is about the music and the skill of the players. Relax, sit back, and let those things shine through.

Moody has a talent for writing quietly romantic songs and on this album, and even though some of the romances fail, she makes them sound like they were a whimsical journey all the same. Some, like “One and Only” should fail on the grounds of being overly precious, but Moody always avoids coming off too saccharine.

She then moves into a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” which doesn’t have nearly the angst of the original but also doesn’t have all that weird synthesizer. I enjoyed hearing it re-imagined as a folk song.

I was surprised to find places where Moody’s vocals let me down. Nothing terrible, b ut sometimes her breathy voice gets a bit too breathy, or loses some of its emotional resonance. Other times she clips the end of her lines, at the expense of the lyric.

Fortunately, these moments are few and far between and when she nails it, as she does on the title track, she really nails it. “These Wilder Things” feels like a confession, and gives you a glimpse of what it would be like to have a heart so big and bold that you have to sing just to take the pressure off so you don’t explode. From the release:

“And letting go is the hardest party
When holding on has been everything
Well I have this pain deep in my heart
That’s why I sing, that’s why I sing”

To an understanding that the very unruly spirit that makes her feel sadness so deeply, also empowers her to come to terms with it, and create something beautiful:

“And I will waste my heart on fear no more
I will find a secret bell and make it ring
And let the rest be washed up on the shore
They can’t be tamed, these wilder things
No they can’t be tamed, these wilder things.”

Later “Pockets” kindles the same untamed love, although here it is less the lyrical and vocal power of Moody and more her secret weapon; Mark Knopfler playing guitar. Moody helped him out on his 2012 album “Privateering” (reviewed back at Disc 748) so not a bad favour to cash in. Well played, Ruth, well played.

My favourite track is “Life is Long.” It features an understated fiddle and a mournful low whistle (played beautifully by Mike McGoldrick). If you’ve heard Knopfler’s recent solo work the structure of this song will feel very familiar. Moody and Knopfler are influencing one another’s writing and that’s good news for fans of both of them.

While a bit too quiet in places for me, for the most part “These Wilder Things” is graceful, thoughtful and a worthy addition to my folk music collection.

Best tracks: Dancing in the Dark, These Wilder Things, Pockets, One Light Shining, Life Is Long

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