Melissa Ruth drops a Meteor
Some songwriters don’t mind spending the bulk of their careers dwelling in the past, searching for relics of rhythm and rhyme that once appeased a generation now long gone, but this just can’t be said of the one and only Melissa Ruth, whose new album Meteor stands as a prime example of organic tonality being dispensed from a composer who isn’t afraid to think outside the box and try a few tricks that have never been attempted before. Songs like “Free Your Life,” the title track,” “Broken Heart,” “Hey Mr. Bartender,” “You Are Not Alone” and “West” all push the sonic envelope as far as they can without becoming totally inaccessible to anyone outside of hardcore audiophile circles. Though Ruth arguably has much more in common with the soul temptresses, bluesmen and folkie singer/songwriters of the past than any of her hipster contemporaries do, it is only because she shares their same intuitive inventiveness, and not because she tries to shadow their every movement in this current period of history.
The first half of Meteor is pretty gritty and guitar-focused, with songs like the effervescent “Long Haul Heartbreak” and folkish “Goodbye Again” offering some of the most profound string arrangements on the record. At the midway point of the album, with “Broken Heart” and “Sugar Pill,” Ruth starts to drift away from the rigidity that defines the beats in “West” and moves more towards an avant-garde, almost free jazz-inspired sound that will infect otherwise black and white material like “Free Your Life” and “Take It All” with a highbrow texture that you simply don’t hear very much of in any genre of music anymore. As we near the end of the record, Ruth starts to rein in some of her eccentricities in favor of giving us the full scope of her vocal skills in “The Knot” and the climactic swing ballad “You Are Not Alone,” which on its own would have been more than enough to convince me that Meteor was an important acquisition for any serious music fan to make this season. The strings, the percussion and really all of the instrumentation is communicating a brooding narrative that underscores the passionate poetry she conveys to us in these songs, and if that isn’t engaging pop music on overdrive, then I really don’t know what else would be.
Boisterous enough for blues fans, amply packed with rhythm that will give rockers chills, and full of a fleeting twang that could make country music enthusiasts wonder where this singer has been their whole lives, Meteor is an album that really has something for everyone, and it’s presented to us from a singer/songwriter who has truly found her place in the grander scheme of modern American music. There’s no hesitance here, no uncertainty in her execution, and definitely no shortage of reverent lyricism in every song that you’ll find in the tracklist, and while 2019 is, for all intents and purposes, gearing up to be a mammoth year for the American underground, I haven’t a doubt in my mind that when all is said and done, Melissa Ruth is going to be one its most discussed players.