Ruth Moody: The magic of a moment in time

by SCOT CASEY

Ruth Moody is an award-winning singer-songwriter from Winnipeg, Canada. She is perhaps best known as a member of the Wailin’ Jennys, but prior to the Jennys, she was the lead singer of the Canadian roots-celtic-folk band, Scruj MacDuhk. Ruth has also been performing as an acclaimed solo artist, releasing The Garden in 2010, and the beautiful album, These Wilder Things, in 2013. Since then, she and her talented band have been touring the world, playing festivals and opening for Mark Knopfler. Currently, she is on a mini-tour of the Pacific Northwest.

Ruth said that while this tour is in support of These Wilder Things and will feature many songs from her catalog and that of the Jennys, she is also working on new material for the next album.

“The last couple of years it’s been focusing on These Wilder Things,” she said. “But now on this tour part of why I wanted to go out was to workshop some new tunes. So it’ll be a whole variety of stuff. It’ll be new songs.”

Her current band, which features Adam Dobres on guitar, Adrian Dolan on fiddle and mandolin, Sam Howard on upright bass and her brother Richard Moody on viola, since around 2012. She said having performed together for a long before going in to record the last album helped to give a “live feel” to the music.

When asked about how her current band and song selection differs from The Wailin’ Jennys, she said, “the songs I choose are different for all sorts of reasons but maybe they are a bit more personal, maybe they are a bit more intimate, maybe they are a bit darker. It’s hard to say. But I know it when it’s a Jenny’s song or it’s a Ruth song.” One of the more remarkable aspects of These Wilder Things is how extraordinarily responsive the band is to Ruth’s singing. “They are really amazing sensitive instrumentalists,” she said, “and it’s been really cool to have them become more and more involved in the band and in the sound. Adrian and Sam can sound like a chamber quartet at times with what they do. They are such versatile musicians. And Adam on the guitar can just create any kind of mood. He is such an amazing musical player. They can do anything so that’s kind of fun for me as a writer to sort of know that we can go in any direction.”

Increasingly recognized for her songwriting, Ruth said she gets inspiration from many sources. “I get inspired by lots of different things,” she said. “I certainly get inspired by listening to other music and other good songwriters. It’s funny: the last time I played in Bellingham. my friend Kristen Andreassen opened up. And I just went to a show of hers last night and sang a few songs with her. I was just struck again by what listening to a songwriter in an intimate setting can do, you are just so drawn in by the lyrics and the mood. I finished a song this morning just from being buzzed by that experience or listening to another artist deliver their craft so beautifully.”

Other musicians such as Martha Scanlan and Blake Mills and the poetry of Billy Collins and Mary Oliver have also been sources of inspiration. “But I get inspired by just taking a walk,” she adds. “Sometimes just the rhythm of walking can bring something into your head, sorting something out in your head and suddenly you have a line. And then the rhythm of your walk can bring another line. I love when that happens.”

Ruth said it took a while for her to start writing her own songs. Mostly exposed to classical music and opera when younger, it was when she discovered folk music that she “finally found a place for my voice. Cause you know it’s not an operatic voice. It’s sort of light. So I started building up a repertoire of Irish and Scottish and English folk songs and not only did it suit my voice but I just loved the material. I loved the stories. I loved the emotion in those songs. And I loved singing them unaccompanied.” She joined the Celtic band, Scruj MacDuhk, in her early 20s and it was at that point that she first wrote her own songs. “I started to really listen closely to a lot of songwriters. I really got into Steve Earle and Gillian Welch and Lucinda Williams and a lot of country roots kind of stuff. It really spoke to me. I started appreciating what a good song was. And what that actually meant.”

From the outside looking in, it is tempting to listen to the songs on These Wilder Things as having a thematic unity. However, Ruth said this was not intentional. “If it comes across that way,” she said, “it is thanks to an amazing producer, David Travers-Smith, who was able to always keep that big vision, the big picture, in mind and be able to thread the songs together – as different as some of them are. I also think it’s just thanks to a certain time in my life. Because when you do make a record, even though the songs come from different places, you are still creating the arrangements, you are still performing them in a certain time. So there’s going to be that magic of it being a moment in time. Maybe that’s what threads them together as well.”

Perhaps it is also that there is a unique quality to Ruth Moody’s exquisitely rendered music, a quiet intimacy threaded through with subtle darker elements. From the opening track, “Trouble and Woe,” with it’s spooky sorrowful bluegrass beauty, through the meditative title track, “These Wilder Things,” to the wistful ache of longing in “Nothing Without Love,” the talent in Ruth’s singing and songwriting are luminous and undeniable, a solitary voice singing hopefully in the wilderness. As a listener, her music draws you out of yourself and into the interior architecture, into the mystery of the song, in the same way as a a great poem, in the same way as a great walk through the woods. Each song making you feel that “magic of it being a moment in time.”

LIVE SHOW: See Ruth Moody on May 19 at the Green Frog. For music and updates, follow her Facebook page or visit ruthmoody.com. 

Published in the May 2016 issue of What’s Up! Magazine