Melissa Ruth – Bones
Pacific Northwest artist Melissa Ruth pieces together her vivid storytelling with songs that trace her family lineage through Canada & the life of the people in timber & mining towns that dominate her world. Though born in Western Canada, Ms. Ruth makes her home now in rural Oregon & her music remarkably reflects that environment.
This 10-track Bones (Drops March 24–Independent) was written, arranged & produced by Ms. Ruth. Recorded in Eugene, Oregon & with intense CD cover art that represents the music accurately. The music to my ears touches upon with regularity a Farfisa-type organ drive ala the 60s Sir Douglas Quintet on “Yoncalla Moon.” But the showcase overall falls between the space of the blues with the teeth of country & the grit of good old-fashioned rock ‘n roll. Not forgetting how the Pacific Northwest seeps into the cracks between each genre.
On first listen Ms. Ruth’s vocal possesses a soulful rural tone. What’s especially interesting is her lyrical pronunciation of words that have a late-career Joni Mitchell texture within a mature framework of the music. Nothing sugary. There are sensitive passages & emotional measures & in “Edith Piaf,” (a world-renown French chanteuse whose career spanned 1935-1963) Melissa’s carefully chosen lyrics are felt, scents can be sensed & the lyrics are imaginative throughout.
Vulnerability can be felt in some of the music. But it’s ultimately Melissa Ruth’s unique vocal that’s enchanting. Supported by an earthy blend of instruments with deliberate phrases coated in beauty. I can’t think of anyone else who sings as well in this style. There’s no poverty of ideas in this work.
“Poor Man’s Daughter,” & “Holding The Light,” is sung in a Bohemian-like Rickie Lee Jones manner with its lyric-driven by a jazzy guitar that never intrudes on the flexible coolness of the tale. “A Good Man,” provides a peek into how Melissa could eventually cruise into a jazzier career. Very nice groove, soulful & expressive.
Depending on the composition she infuses herself with traditions between Laura Nyro, Eva Cassidy & Buffy Sainte-Marie. Vocal inflections, phrasing & timbre all click like the inner workings of a clock. While not all songs may catch an ear immediately what renders them wonders is when they do take hold. They will come as a surprise as “Wild Roses,” did for me. Haunting with muted trumpet & delicate guitars that embolden lines like the contrast between “there’s crude in your land, ‘neath the wild roses.” Beautiful.
Some political asides (“Logger’s Lament”) are laid out with a gentle sympathetic voice. These songs come from a place where there’s traction between folk & soul. Highlights – All songs are worth a listen. All. One of the year’s best.
Musicians – Johnny Leal (lead electric & acoustic guitar), Scoop McGuire (bass), Matt Hill (keys/trumpet), Cameron Siegal (drums), Stacey Atwell-Keister (harmony vocals) & Melissa (vocals/electric & acoustic guitar/rhythm guitar/mandolin/percussion).
B&W image courtesy of Leah Joseph Photography. CD @ Bandcamp + https://melissaruthmusic.com/