We were intrigued when a few months back an email popped in from Melissa Ruth inviting us to listen to her brand of what she called “doo-wop twang.” Intrigued enough to enquire more and eventually track down a copy of her album Ain’t No Whiskey and glad we are of that. Ain’t No Whiskey sees Canadian Ruth, now living in Eugene, Oregon, setting up stall with her husband Johnny Leal and brother in law, Jimmy Leal in tow (on lead, slide and bass guitar and drums respectively) as she plays a fine set of songs that were kick-started by her purchase of a 1958 Guild Freshman guitar and some time spent delving through old jazz and blues albums. The trio play with a great sense of intimacy and a simplicity that affords Ruth’s writing and her sultry voice plenty of space to impress. Johnny Leal’s spare playing complements Ruth’s choppy rhythm guitar whether they are laying down some late night vibes or channelling the Tennessee Three (on Dusty Boxcar) and the end result is somewhat akin to early Cowboy Junkies colliding with Mary Gauthier.
While she sings superbly Ruth also writes a mean song with the title piece standing out as a blues lament from a woman who can’t find solace in the bottle. This sad state of affairs continues in No One Said Nothin ‘Bout Dancin, a lazy drink laced waltz that woozily meanders along with a similar feeling to that old chestnut Tennessee Waltz. Willing To Fall completes a triumvirate of drink fuelled misery and lost love with Ruth’s voice melting while Leals’ guitar waxes lyrically.
It’s not all downbeat however as Dusty Boxcar jaunts along in an autobiographical vein while Write Me A Love Song breezes along at a pell mell rate. However they are at their best when investigating the downbeat side of life and Cinco De Mayo is a fine impressionistic account of a young man’s longing for a Mexican girl who may or might not be unattainable. Wonderful stuff although we remain somewhat nonplussed by the lack of doo-wop.