My holiday week continues! This review comes from a secret bunker at an undisclosed location, accessible by neither phone nor email.
Disc 848 is….The Garden
Artist: Ruth Moody
Year of Release: 2010
What’s up with the Cover? This is one of my favourite album covers. I like the simplicity of it, and I like the colour scheme which is very restful to the eyes. I think it would make a cool tattoo.
I also love the art concept of thistles growing from a woman’s corset. It says “our lives are like a garden, full of both beauty and thistles.”
How I Came To Know It: I’m a fan of the Wailin’ Jennys, and Ruth Moody is one of them when she’s not doing solo stuff. When I saw she had her own album out I decided to give it a shot.
How It Stacks Up: I have two Ruth Moody albums which is most of them (apparently there is a solo EP from way back in 2002, but I expect it is very hard to find). Of the two that I have (this one and 2013's "These Wilder Things" I put "The Garden" in top spot.
Ratings: 3 stars but almost 4
“The Garden” is just that; a pleasant walk through one of those overgrown English gardens where you can get lost a little, but never too much.
Of all the Wailin’ Jenny’s, Ruth Moody has the purest tone to her voice; a breathy quality that is equal parts innocence and mystery. She seems to know this about herself, and tends to write songs that dovetail well with her voice. Every now and then I wanted a bit more ‘oomph’ out of these songs, but generally I was happy just to soak in the warm tones.
While there are many guest musicians and background vocalists (including appearances by fellow Jennys Nicky Mehta and Heather Masse) Moody does a lot of the playing herself. In addition to lead vocals, she plays acoustic guitar, banjo, piano, ukulele and accordion. Some people are just gifted at picking up new instruments. Like her vocals, Moody’s playing style on all the instruments is light and breezy. She always sounds relaxed, and listening to her sing and play is like having a tall glass of lemonade in the shade after a long day of working in the yard. She decompresses me.
The first four songs on the album have already become some of my favourite folk songs.
The title track is a beautiful blend of Moody’s voice and her banjo playing, and felt like a Wailin’ Jennys song, with a prayer-like quality that calls you toward positive action.
“Cold Outside” is an intimate song that is playful and sexy in equal measure. It would make a fine companion to Heather Masse’s 2010 song “Mittens” (off her solo album reviewed back at Disc 209) as songs that take the Canadian winter and turn it into a lover’s embrace.
“Travellin’ Shoes” is a classic folk wandering song, with a nice mid-tempo walking pace to go along with it, and a bit (if only a bit) of a rock edge. “We Can Only Listen” starts with a brilliant banjo riff and a nice harmony with Matt Peters, who is apparently so ‘not famous’ I couldn’t find him on…the internet. Thanks to this blog entry future searchers will have better luck.
Unfortunately, the middle of the album doesn’t meet the same standards of the first four songs. It isn’t that what follows is bad, it is just that after those first four tracks I was expecting greatness and ended up with just plain good.
Part of the challenge is the lack of dynamics in the high end of the production, which lets the bass notes dominate and drain the energy out of the melody. The exception here is “The Nest” at Track 8, which is buoyed by some fabulous fiddle playing by Jeremy Penner but other than that not one of my favourites.
I did enjoy “Tell Me” which Moody does in the style of an old forties or fifties crooner. Listening to the song I had visions of her in a calf-length dress entertaining the troops home on leave from fighting the Fuhrer. I would fight the Fuhrer for you, Miss Moody.
Anyway, before the album closes Moody gives us one more standout with “Valentine.” This song suffers from the production a bit, but there is no stopping the intimate soul-bearing vocal performance on this song, which speaks of love that is so powerful it cannot be denied, whether it is right for the people swept up in it or not. As Moody sums up at the end of the song:
“I must have been crazy
Lost in your blood-shot eyes again
But love she marches in
And takes us like an army
now and then”
Overall this album speaks quietly and you have to be willing to settle in and listen to get everything out of it. It is best heard on a summer afternoon while sitting in a secluded garden gazebo. You may wish to have a cup of tea while you’re out there.