Melissa Ruth & The Likely Stories. Riding Mercury. Both Ears Records.

Back at the beginning of 2013 Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed Melissa Ruth‘s Ain’t No Whiskey and found it very appealing. The album was almost two years old by then and only making it across the pond but her deep throated delivery of beer stained laments and frisky Tennessee Three like jaunts was mighty fine. Three years on, Riding Mercury is a more textured album with Ruth, husband Johnny Leal (on guitars) and brother in law Jimmy Leal (drums) augmented on bass by Rick De Vol and Scoop McGuire allowing the band to record live as opposed to Johnny Leal dubbing bass on the previous album. As a result the band is looser and they stretch out at times while they retain the basic smoky late night louche approach with Leal’s guitar more akin to jazz than blues while Ruth’s husky tones are perfectly suited for torch songs and breathless vocalese. The intimacy of Ain’t No Whiskey is sacrificed somewhat but there are several songs here that still capture the feel of that album and while lyrically Ruth ditches the drunken sad songs she replaces them with some excellent insights into broken hearts, broken families and broken women on what could be construed as a song cycle.

Opening song, What I Got, sets the scene as a scuzzy blues scratch paints a picture of a bed ridden diseased woman looking for one last fling. Ruth’s banjo introduces the fine Lonely World that rips along gaily although again the lyrics paint a picture of an abandoned and lonely woman. Rick De Vol’s fretless bass billows throughout the aching blues of Summer Nights In New Orleans with Leal offering a gut wrenching slide guitar solo as Ruth sings as sultry as she can. Speaking of New Orleans the following High Brow Blues featuring Talon Nansel’s trombone sounds as if it was forged in the Crescent City as Ruth describes an empty socialite before the band launch into the jump jive of A Letter with some groovy guitar parts. Put Your Light On is a song that captures the description Ruth gave to her music when Ain’t No Whiskey came out. Doo Wop Twang is what she called it and here she carries the torch with a fifties’ influenced waltz while the guitar eventually slinks to the front to deliver a clipped and intense solo. Your Love is a country influenced ballad that recalls Lucinda Williams initially while the guitar solos in a lazy fashion reminiscent of Santo and Johnny. Ruth maintains this fifties feel on the soulful Tell Me and country pop Take My Chances but she closes the album with two powerful songs that recall the earlier album with the band scraping a desolate landscape as she visits territory normally inhabited by the likes of Mary Gauthier. Who’s Your Lover ebbs and flows with fretless bass, tom tom percussion and charged, taut guitar as Ruth moans and pleads

Who’s your lover who’s your lover now?
Who’s your lover who’s your lover now?
You’ve found another you’ve found another now
Who’s your lover who’s your lover now?
White white linen white white linen now
White white linen white white linen now
Your head is spinnin your head is spinnin now
White white linen white white linen now

Brown brown liquor brown brown liquor now
Brown brown liquor brown brown liquor now
Your heart is thicker your heart is thicker now
Brown brown liquor brown brown liquor now

Black black water black black water now
Black black water black black water now
Your blood runs hot your blood rums hotter now
Black black water black black water now

Red red fire red red fire now
Red red fire red red fire now
You hear the choirs the angel choirs now
Red red fire red red fire now.

Riding Mercury closes the album with a more conventional structure that again harks back to fifties rock’n’roll with the band approaching a gospel rhythm as Ruth testifies with appropriate biblical allusions. A fine end to a fine album.

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