Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken
By using such a portentous opening to this post, I could so well be setting myself up to fail. I feel compelled, nonetheless, to write something about a remarkable singer-songwriter whom I was privileged to hear at a gig last week. I’d love to convert a few people to my way of thinking, and do justice to a young woman’s peculiar talent. It seldom helps, though, to set up expectations that are too high.
Even so, I couldn’t resist starting with that reference to Keats. Its very aptness was irresistible. Ruth Theodore, the artiste of whom I speak, wrote a song called Eris in which she muses about the planets in their orbits and equates their ponderous circles and gravitational pulls to our earthly concerns about attraction, love and duty. Ruth, though, is not ponderous or self-important. She pulls in Pluto and other planets to serve her open-ended parable of star-crossed lovers, but does it with a wink and a smile.
You can see her performing Eris here.
When I started this blog, I had an idea that I would write about music that I knew well, had lived with, and so felt sure of its strengths (and weaknesses). Ruth Theodore, though, is new to me. I’d like, nonetheless, to stick my neck out for her and describe her as the most interesting, original and ingenious singer-songwriter that I have encountered for many years.
I heard Ruth at the Green Note in Camden, London, just last month. When her set opened with a lengthy French Horn solo, I realised that this was something out of the ordinary. Ruth, and the excellent musicians accompanying her, lived up to that arresting opening. Not a single song was dud. Every composition was thoughtfully crafted and beguilingly unpredictable. The performers, all clearly at home with the idiosyncratic rhythms and sophisticated harmonies of the music, played with understated flair.
So far, Ruth has released two CDs. The first, Worm Food (2007) is very good indeed, but it is the 2010 follow-up White Holes of Mole Hills where we really get the measure of her talent. The songs are longer, dramatically crafted and continually inventive. A friend texted me, on listening to White Holes to say “other singer-songwriters may get jagged, edgy stream-of-consciousness into their lyrics, but Ruth alone provides the perfect musical complement”.
As an example, try this:
The shifts between the alternating three- and four-to-the-bar sections and the more straightforward 4/4 sections give depth and sophistication to this winsome song. We’re about as far away as you can get from the traditional AABA style of songwriting, yet we have a composition that flows and convinces. More to the point, we have an especially beautiful love song.
I wish I knew more about the musicians that revolve around planet Ruth. The skilful and apposite arrangements deserve much praise. They impart to Ruth’s lovely songs sometimes a playfulness and sometimes a whimsical stateliness. The same friend, mentioned above, said to me “her instrumental sections are like riding a tricycle with a wonky wheel”, which was, of course, intended as a compliment.
A third album, Dear Lamp, Love Moth is scheduled for release in June and on the strength of the numbers that Ruth played at the Green Note gig, looks set to be even greater than Worm Holes.
If you’d like to know more about Ruth Theodore, the best place to start would be her website where you can buy those fine two first albums and even – as I did – pre-order the new one.
Well, I shall go back now to watching the skies, to see if another new planet swims by. Somehow, I don’t think one will.