Melissa Ruth. Meteor

a0005527541_16We last encountered Melissa Ruth in 2013 when her album, Melissa Ruth & The Likely Stories, got our attention. She pops up on our radar again with this set of polished songs which are more rock based than those of the earlier album with Ruth playing guitar and singing while hubby Johnny Leal wields lead and slide guitars.

The album kicks off in style on West with a strong bass line underpinning slide guitar before Ruth’s strong voice weighs in. Ruth calls her music “doo-wop twang,” a confection of, “blues, the teeth of country, and the grit of rock ‘n’ roll.” West is indeed a sinewy dose of bluesy rock but any country element only emerges in the lyrics which mention various items and places one might expect to populate a country song. Long Haul Heartbreak follows in a similar vein with Ruth and the band weighing in like The Pretenders as one can imagine Chrissie Hynd wrapping her voice around this one while Free Your Life actually harks back to eighties power pop in its jagged delivery and poppy chorus.

Fine as these songs are, there’s a generic feel to them so its pleasing to say that elsewhere,  Ruth takes her foot off the pedal and slows down somewhat allowing her voice room to breathe. The title song has the band laying down a slow burn beat with the guitars wiry and spare as Ruth sounds lost somewhere between the stars and seedy lo dive bars. Goodbye Again comes across like a broke down country waltz, a Patsy Cline song for the age as the protagonist wanders home from a bar with dark thoughts of a final goodbye running through her thoughts. It’s dark but the following song, Broken Heart, is darker still as Ruth inhabits a twilight world of lost highways and late night drama, her mention of Johnny Cash’s infamous line, “I shot a man in Reno…” perhaps an allusion to what she’s running from. Concertina is added to the jazzy guitar lines here with the end result a song one wouldn’t be surprised to find popping up on a David Lynch soundtrack.

Hey Mr. Bartender returns to the driving rhythms and muscular beat of the earlier songs but it works much better as Ruth intones the words to this outlaw tale in a sultry voice resulting in a song not a million miles removed from Springsteen’s State Trooper. Likewise, Sugar Pill, six minutes of narcotic blues, could have come from the pen of Lucinda Williams, the band dragging the song out with grumbling guitars and a sluggish rhythm. If that’s too much doom and gloom for you the album has a more upbeat note towards the end as the band slip into an actual country song on The Knot. Being a country song it’s still sad but bittersweet as Ruth sings of the ties which bind a couple despite trials and woe. Closing the album, Ruth slips into more of a southern soul sound on You Are Not Alone with the band sounding as if they were recording in the old Stax studios. A pity there’s no horn section here as the song is just begging for one but it’s a fine close to an album which certainly grows on the listener.

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Melissa Ruth & The Likely Stories.

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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.

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