Ruth Theodore “Cherry Picker”

River Rat Records, 2023

A career-spanning compilation album that reflects the talents, both musically and lyrically, of an unusual and confident artist.

Artwork for Ruth Theodore "Cherry Picker" album.A career-spanning compilation, there is no doubt Ruth Theodore is a talented writer but who her audience may be is uncertain. When song titles such as ‘Tarradiddle Scuttlebum’, and ‘The Carcass and the Pride’ present themselves on the list of album song titles then it takes no imagination to realise this is not going to be a traditional listening experience. As Dorothy would say “Toto, I have a feeling we aren’t in Kansas anymore”. Is it too clever for its own good or a work of artistic brilliance with its very clever arrangements?

Lyrically it’s brilliant. Certainly, the songwriting and arrangements are full of confidence, maybe too confident in places. Some people may shirk away from some of the unusual instrumentation. Is that really a garden saw being played on ‘Tarradiddle Scuttlebum’ and if it is why? Ruth’s singing is very distinctive and there’s a touch of Anais Mitchell in a couple of songs.

The opening track ‘People People’ is probably the most commercial song on the album, up-tempo with some real catchy backing singing, and a bit of a stomper until it suddenly breaks down into a quiet part which may work or may not depending upon your taste. The guitar work makes the song sound like it could have been placed right in the middle of  Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ album and would not go noticed other than the quirky singing and the lyrics about bumping into someone in the council line and the conversation that unfolds. ‘ You Can’t Help Who You Love’ has another interesting musical construction and the lyrics also equal its ambition:“finding lumps in thunderbolts and lightning strikes the grip of a nightmare grasps you tight and life goes bump in the night and its sickness come to frighten us take me take me you’ll beg you’ll plead”

‘Archimedes’ stutters along with different time changes too, oboe (woodwind nice touch). It’s a bit of a theatrical show song in places, all it’s missing is the visual of ‘Marlene Dietrich’ or ‘Edith Piaf’ stopping their feet. ‘Nothing on’ is the most ‘Anais Mitchell’ sounding song on the album, lovely woodwind here (clarinet) again. For once the time changes are missing which benefits this song immensely. ‘Jonas Song’ offer a  gentle 12-bar blues riff with gentle singing and then purposely goes wonky. ‘Buffalo’ has a lovely double bass, hoedown-ish, it’s ‘cotton eye joe’ on acid. ‘Ugly Faces’ is straight out of the Rickie Lee Jones songbook. Why it has all the silly noises at the beginning when it’s such a great jazzy song with some majestic violin solo playing?

Americana it isn’t, it’s very Indie and proud to be. It’s surprising Ruth Theodore isn’t as well known as artists such as Kate Bush or Rickie Lee Jones. There is a quality throughout, both lyrically and musically although maybe it is a little too clever at times for its own good.

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