Ruen Brothers “Ten Paces”

Yep Roc, 2023

The sound of young Scunthorpe: Brandon Flowers scoring John Ford movies.

Ruen Brothers are siblings Rupert and Henry Stanshall (see what they did there?) who have just released their third LP ‘Ten Paces’. There are so many ways that their career to date is noteworthy. There is their upbringing in the rock n roll badlands of North Lincolnshire that saw them playing the working men’s club, pub and wedding circuit of hometown Scunthorpe in their early teens. There is an adolescent infatuation with rockabilly and the Everlys that, 10 years ago, saw them labelled as ‘The Rockabilly Jedward’ by The Guardian, even before having made a record.  Then there is some serious early critical attention and the patronage of industry big hitters like Rick Rubin, who produced their first LP. It’s a back story that hints at a strange kind of Northern steel-town ‘star is born’ vibe. As an origin narrative this might raise an eyebrow or two but when it frames the birthing of ‘Ten Paces’ it makes absolute sense, as does the gloriously melodic, widescreen music that emanates from its unnecessarily bright yellow grooves.

Their story, as perpetuated in numerous high-profile interviews and features over the years, is littered with touchstones to signal just what this record sounds like. Musical influences from Orbison, Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash, the appeal of Western movies and playing gigs whilst bar brawls rage around them. It’s almost too textbook to believe, if it weren’t for one vital detail. The record is a killer. It effortlessly evokes such a fabled frontier, conjuring a place where the Ruen Brothers are intuitively at home. A place that is cherished in their hearts and which they perfectly and instinctively communicate to their audience in a genuinely affecting way. It is clearly their upbringing that has enabled them to submit to their love of genre in such an open and artless way and to deliver a record that embraces all this so perfectly.

‘Ten Paces’ is clearly in thrall to genre but it is much more than a genre record. It displays such an empathic feeling for the influences upon which it draws. It is impossible to be cynical or unmoved by it. As Rubin noted when offering to produce debut LP ‘All My Shades of Blue’ they may sound like they come from another era but they are “making something new again with these traditional influences”. Having this connection with their creative roots has enabled the brothers to fashion and refine an ultra-clear vision for their art. They know just what they want the record, and everything around it, to be; “… something cinematic and personal, an album that takes listeners out of their world and into the West, like Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs does”. To go with this vision they have the creative and technical capability to deliver it, almost entirely unaided (or uncluttered) by the incursion of others. ‘Ten Paces’ is written, produced engineered and played entirely by Rupert and Henry with the exception of a single co-writing credit on one song and some engineering assistance on the final track of the album.

There could be a danger that the LP becomes insular or claustrophobic because of the lack of outside influence and it certainly has a fundamental adherence to the widescreen vision. Rather than limiting the album’s reach though, this consistency is a good thing, building a mood that is at once comforting and enticing. Throughout, Rupert’s production manages to retain the authentic qualities of the early recordings they love and at the same time offer an updated and genuinely unique contemporary sound. The brothers have compiled a diligently crafted record through painstaking attention to detail for every aspect of the sound. There is a sympathetic use of sound effects such as the gunshots and storms of opener “Slow Draw” and “The Fear”. Reverb is used to create both the wide open spaces of the plains on some tracks and on others it crafts intimate spaces in which the songs seem to hide away. In recording the vocals Henry often laid down hundreds of takes to get the tone just right for the song, singing in a lower register than usual in order to “create a grounded and conversational feel, true to the laconic, hard-boiled characters of the West”. He manages to convey a confident and expressive swagger that is tinged with the Big O’s power and vulnerability.

All of this production detail remains in the service of the song and of their vision for the record. Despite it all, ‘Ten Paces’ remains a beautifully clean-sounding record, leaving plenty of spaces for the listener to inhabit and create their own imaginings of what is at play. It feels like completely coherent, nothing is out of place; ‘immaculate’ might do it justice perhaps. All this attention and fastidious crafting takes nothing away from the heart or emotional depth of the record, it’s achingly profound throughout. Joyous on the few occasions where it needs to be but the prevailing tone is one of wistful regret with a frisson of forlorn melancholy that is inescapable yet strangely appealing. There is also an effortless melodic sensibility, which recalls the sorely underrated Mull Historical Society, and leavens the darker, noir sensibility of other parts of the record. The balance is perfect and the transitions are seamless.

The touchpoints for the record are inescapable, its cinematic nature, the American West (Deadwood not Power of the Dog), the love of 50 and 60s pop, country and rockabilly. ‘Ten Paces’ is much more than the sum of these parts though. There is a gleaming modern sheen to the record that reminds of nothing more than Brandon Flowers’ Killers and really sets this LP apart from others in a similar space. The story it tells brings to mind gunslingers, downtrodden but determined ranchers with perma-stubble, saloons with Whiskey but no beer, bank robberies and wanted outlaws and that is just as they planned it. It is the culmination of their journey to date and a wonderful encapsulation of everything they are and could be. For now it is just right. Where they go next is something to ponder.

9/10
9/10

About Guy Lincoln 74 Articles
Americana, New Country, Alt-country, No Depression, Twangcore, Cow-punk, Neo-traditionalists, Countrypolitan... whatever.
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