Ruth Gerson: This Can’t Be My Life

Ruth Gerson
This Can’t Be My Life
Wrong Records
Rating: ★★★☆☆

On This Can’t Be My Life, Bay Area-based singer-songwriter Ruth Gerson addresses her emotionally tumultuous time living in New York City. Originally readied for release in 2007, Gerson put the album on hold to deal with divorce, single parenthood and a relocation to the West Coast.

Releasing it now coincides nicely with the return of Lilith Fair as this disc fits in with the Fair’s female singer-songwriter style. Her frequently piano-based music recalls such Lilith-bred acts as Fiona Apple and Paula Cole, combined with a bit of Sheryl-Crow-ish rockier edge. She also shares those musicians’ fondness for lyrical confessionalism. In “Don’t Go,” she vividly describes a passionate encounter as “you’re breathing slow against me/Your lips just inches from my lips/eyes closed dreaming softly/off in the wilderness.” Gerson takes a more psychological tack on the title track, asking: “how can you sleep/how can you eat/how can you breathe/I hardly can function/running on empty/faint with the breeze.” Breathing references actually surface in several songs, which unfortunately comes off as sounding repetitive rather than suggesting a reoccurring theme. In fact, an album shortcomings is the sense of sameness that slips into the listener’s mind during this set of 11 mainly mid-tempo soul-searching tracks.

There are, however, a number of strong tunes. On “You Lie,” Gerson’s achy vocals thoroughly convey a troubled relationship that is pushed along with an urgent rhythm section. The tempo-changing title track powerfully reflects the song’s search for self and the lush, alluring “Stay With Me” and “Don’t Go” pull you in like a lover’s embrace. The disc’s virtues also include its smooth, full-bodied sound, which gives a more expansive musical foundation to what could have easily been a simply produced songwriter’s showcase. A funky guitar line reverberates through “Bulletproof,” while swirly electronics float in the background of the piano ballad “Hazel,” and in “Someday Soon,” Gerson double-tracks her vocals to play up the song’s unsettled feel.

While she still has a way to go to reach the level of her more successful predecessors (Crow, Apple, etc.), Gerson exhibits a good deal of talent here, and fans of female singer-songwriters would be wise to check her out.