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HomeMusicReview: Ruth Moody – Wanderer

Review: Ruth Moody – Wanderer


While The Wailin’ Jennys are still a going concern, currently working up a new album, Ruth Moody has found the time to finally put together her third solo album, Wanderer, the long-awaited follow-up to 2013’s These Wilder Things. Not a great deal has changed musically in the interim, folksy America being the default mode as her soprano vocals soar over the generally laid-back arrangements while the roster of musicians includes touring member Anthony da Costa on guitars, drummer Jason Burger, Kai Welch and Will Honaker on keys, alongside Sam Howard on upright bass, co-producer Dan Knobler on acoustic guitar and Richard Moody on violin and viola.

A chronicle of her life over the last ten years, taking in motherhood and the pandemic along the way, it opens with the rippling Already Free, a pandemic-platformed musing about feeling adrift from herself (“Anchor me/I don’t know where I am/Trying to learn how to stand/Waves to my head/Am I running from the future or the past/Or somebody I could never be/Am I drowning or holding too tight to the mast …I’m heavy and I’m haunted/Scared I’m not who I wanted/To be”).

 Twilight is a song about finding, giving in to and holding on to love  (“Summer/Took us on a rampage/We did some things we shouldn’t have done/Answered to no one/Howled at the moon in each other’s eyes/There was no way back so we found a way to ride it/There was no way out so we found a path inside it”) and it keeping them safe during darker time (“Soon the storms were thick/And we were nothing but our bones and skin/And then you/Got me through the winter/I didn’t think that I would survive/But you kept me alive/Cradled in the folds of your wing”).

Moody on claw hammer banjo, special guest Joey Landreth steps up to bring resonator guitar and duet on The Spell of the Lilac Bloom, another number – written shortly after learning she was pregnant – about falling under love’s spell (“Something happens when it feels so right/You’re wide awake dreaming in the middle of the night/It could have been the whiskey or the pale grass moon/But that’s what happened when I met you”), the perfect bliss then counterbalanced with  Seventeen, an autobiographical tale of a teenage crush growing up in Winnipeg (“I remember walking up your street/I’d try and time it just right so that we might meet/Then I’d call out your name”) she was too shy to act upon (“If I could go back/I’d show you all the ways that you made me feel”), backing away when it threatened to get too real (“I could see the words forming in your eyes/You started to say it/I couldn’t take it/I tried to hide/Too scared of your flame”) and it all slipping way.

Russ Paul on pedal steel, the slow, scuffed shuffling Michigan is another true story reflection on things that were never meant to be (“Sometimes I think of Michigan/And the mess that we got in/Don’t know what I was thinkin’/Guess I was lookin’ for a better way to lose you/Maybe it was just that you were moving on/All I know is that you got me hearing a different kind of song/So maybe I was seeing if I could make you stay/If I could make you the one that didn’t get away”).

Again with pedal steel, the sparsely strummed, slowly gathering five-minute The Way Lovers Move charts the different stages of a relationship, punctuated here with images of wildfire, lightning, thunder and the first light of morning. Featuring mandolin, the oldest song on the album, Coyotes is another reverie of love but couched in more enigmatic dream and totemic imagery (“You stood by my side as the gates opened wide/You said ‘this could be yours for the keeping’/Then in the dark it was some kind of bark/A voice said ‘you must have been dreaming’/There were strains of a song it was hours from dawn/Outside the coyotes were scheming/Oh now there’s a fire in my heart/I’ve been trying so hard not to feed it…You’re the ring you’re the rope/you’re the slippery slope/The riddle I could never forget/The wing and the weight the white and the eight/I swear I’ll make sense of it yet”).

Moody again on claw-hammer banjo with Alex Spiegelman on clarinet and Nat Smith on cello, inspired by her return to Canada after a long absence,  North Calling returns to themes of becoming one with herself in the rhapsody of the elements (“Let me be swallowed by the white/Let the truth find me/Let me find the truth…I feel the winter calling/Let me be woken by the wild/Let the song find me/Let me find the song/The ancients whispering/My spirit listening/I feel the night calling/Let me be taken by the dream/Let the darkness find me/Let me find the dark”).

Written for Howard, the sparse, wistful title track is an ode to putting down roots after being afraid of change (“I’ve been a wanderer all of my life/It’s all the life that I know/I’ve never slowed down for anything much/But you put on quite a show/Now the sun seems to shine a little brighter, love…And I’ve been afraid of changing/But the way that I feel about you/Makes me think that it’s worth rearranging/The things that I thought that I knew”).

It ends Comin’ Round The Bend with Smith, Dolan and Richard Moody on strings, a simple, homespun almost hymnal song about “comin’ out of darkness”, stepping into a new dawn, healing from grief, and new beginnings, as much about emerging from the pandemic as about embracing the light of change, about accepting that “some battles can’t be won” but that “somewhere a light is burning/Just like a prairie sun”, a sense of release and epiphany radiating from the lines “there’s a truth in every story/And a truth in every sound/Well it’s the sound of truth a-calling/And my story coming round/I feel a change has come”.  

Used to know how to sew/But I lost the thread”, she sings on the opening track. Come to the closing tune; it’s clear she’s not only found it again but has her musical needlepoint down to a consummate art.

Wanderer will be released on May 17 2024, on Blue Muse Records.



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