Ruth Wyand,
Distant Drums
(Bay Rat, 2002)

Ruth Wyand's second solo CD is misleadingly called Distant Drums. (It's misleading because Ruth's instrument of choice is actually a guitar.) The promotional material describes Ruth as "a fingerstyle performer whose songwriting is heavily influenced by swing, ragtime, country and blues."

The CD title comes from one of tracks. "Distant Drums" has an almost hypnotic, mysterious feel to it, due in part to the percussion in the background. Rather than point out the lyrics, I'll quote the liner notes that explain why Ruth wrote the piece. "I walked out to the marsh about 3 a.m. for some air. I heard a very dark and mysterious low beating sound. I reached for my mace, my knife, a kayak paddle and called my dog. I never discovered the source of the sound and since I couldn't get in touch with Mulder or Scully, I wrote this song."

As you might guess from that quote, underlying some serious guitar playing and sometimes passionate singing, Ruth displays a sense of humor that ranges from the rather subtle to practically in your face. That being said, perhaps half of the 14 tracks will bring a smile to your face if you focus on the lyrics. If you focus in the instruments, the heavy blues and folk sound will definitely start your toes a tappin'.

One of the more silly songs is "They Won't Know the Difference." Accompanied by a light, upbeat, ragtime rhythm, Ruth sings about a rich lady whose house simply isn't a home. As Ruth explains in the chorus, "She's selling the land/the kids the house and the man/for one low price an easy payment plan/no deposit no interest/you just take her place/they won't know the difference." Ruth also provides something that I can only describe as vocal acrobatics at the beginning of the track. It took me a while to warm up to it, but now I hear why it works with the piece.

One of the prettier, more serious selections is "Le Musicien de la Rue," which was written based on time in 1999 Ruth spent playing music on the streets of Paris. The cello playing of Bill Zola adds a great touch to this piece. The lyrics are a mix of English and French; while French is a terrible language for rap or modern pop, I think it is a perfect language for slow, dramatic pieces such as this.

The musicians lending a hand include Bill Zola (who also plays bass), Jody Janetta (udo drum, percussion), Donny Vosburgh (drums, tablah, percussion), Adrian Valosin (drums), Mary Frances Medolla (drums) and Darla Gaitly and Dawn Hopkins (back-up vocals).

It took me a half-dozen listens to fully warm up to Distant Drums. The music is quite entertaining and I love its old-time feel, but Ruth's voice, while professional, is not the type I usually prefer. She can hit some high notes, but her vocals are generally low and heavy, similar perhaps to Bonny Raitt. But, while it's not my first choice, I can appreciate Ruth's talent. She's worth checking out. I can only imagine that she would be a lot of fun to hear in a coffeehouse type setting.

- Rambles
written by Wil Owen
published 15 February 2003

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