If you love traditional folk rock with a bluesy edge tempered by the honeysweet voice of a modern day soul singer, Melissa Ruth’s Meteor is the album that you’ve been waiting for this spring. In just a cursory examination of the record’s title track, it’s terribly easy for even the most discriminating of music critics among us to become trapped in the swarthy swagger of her serenade. Similar magic is waiting to be discovered in “Free Your Life,” “West” and “The Knot,” but to be fair, no matter where you look in Meteor, you’re almost guaranteed to find something worthy of your heart in this unforgettable performance for the ages.
“Sugar Pill” kicks into gear on the back of a staggering groove that will spend nearly six minutes blossoming into one of the most charismatic dirges I’ve heard in a long time. Ruth is confident in her sexy command of the microphone, throwing us evocative lines rife with texture and earnest admissions, and in this song, as well as in “Take It All,” “Broken Heart” and “Long Haul Heartbreak,” she makes a point of separating her melodies from those of her backing band. What results, frankly, is nothing less than spellbinding on all fronts.
“Goodbye Again,” “You Are Not Alone” and “Hey Mr. Bartender” all benefit from some really sizzling hooks, but I wouldn’t say that they’re too poppy in comparison to the other tracks on this record. There’s a nice mix of experimentation and more straightforward material in Meteor, and it’s always held together by the divine singing of Ruth. I’ve listened to a lot of really good roots records in 2019, but this one has got to be the most diversely fashioned of the bunch. Melissa Ruth is touching on a lot of sonic ground here, and displaying a vocal virtuosity that could very well propel her into the spotlight on the national level.
The instrumentally-driven numbers like “Free Your Life,” “West,” “Take It All” and “Sugar Pill” use cerebral textures as a means of communicating the narrative in their lyrics with a moodiness that wouldn’t be present otherwise, but I don’t think that their broadminded compositional structures dwarf those in simpler songs like “You Are Not Alone” or the title track in the slightest. If anything, this eclectic mix of highly stylized acoustic ballads and electrified jams makes for a much more engaging record than those of Ruth’s less than urbane rivals.
Melissa Ruth creates a soundtrack for the beautiful, flawed and complicated country that is America and those who call her shores home in Meteor, and as far as I’m concerned, you’re not likely to find another album like it this March. The master mix puts her potent set of pipes front and center in the big picture and allows for every other element in the music to be structured around their sensuous natural timbre, but don’t think that this record is all about Ruth’s angelic voice alone. If there’s a statement to be made here, it’s that Melissa Ruth is ready to take her rightful place in the top tier of modern American roots music, and furthermore, that her style will never be defined by one aspect of her skillset exclusively.