When a member of a group breaks away to record solo material, it’s often to simply expand the individual’s horizons a bit – if sometimes only a very small bit. In some of the better, more recent examples, the artist has something unique that just doesn’t fit into their main gig’s framework. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder needed a ukulele outlet, and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks displayed her amp-busting, riot girl gusto. For Ruth Moody of the Wailin’ Jennys, looking at life through Mother Nature’s gaze proved irresistible. The grand-scope of the Earth’s landscape is her canvas, and elements such as waves, wind and the moon are the individual colors residing on her most colorful palette.
Moody, a Canadian folk-treasure, avoids the usual trappings of the solo-side project by sticking to her trusty rustic tools, albeit with an occasional piano-tune. The lovely familiarity of her solo-efforts; 2010’s The Garden and her newest release, the resplendent These Wilder Things provides a rare cohesiveness between solo-side and group main-gig. With album titles such as hers, it stands to reason that nature in various forms is represented on her work, and, similar to say, Gillian Welch, most tunes indeed have the timeless touch of organic-progression residing in them. Examinations of relationships in all of life’s stages are deftly proffered here. For a woman in and out of love, however, it’s not all doubts and pain derived from a broken partnership, but the questions about the status of a current love that give her as much to write about as a promising start or brutal end might.
In “Make A Change” and the album’s most full-on Bluegrass number, “One Light Shining,” featuring Dobro-giant Jerry Douglas, Moody clings to the slightest of relational slivers. In these two songs, Moody uses wind, rain, clouds and the dawning of new days to discuss whether a relationship still has a pulse or not.
Even in songs such as the title track, where a pensive piano crawls along, veering off of the usual folk-worn path, it’s Moody’s breathy and fragile vocal that lends the songs the air of a time-tested folk tune, and not a crooner’s syrupy ballad. In “One And Only,” the employ of an electric guitar brings to mind some of the rare, straight-away love songs from Moody’s fellow Canadian Kathleen Edwards.
“Trouble And Woe” not only provides the record a Welch-ian Appalachian folk-noir vibe, but it’s another of the songs on this collection that dare to look beneath the sunny surface of generic love into a darker layer of which relationships realistically consist of. Also making great use of ominous, low-country tones, “Pockets” is a deliberately-paced autopsy of a failed-relationship; Moody presents past-tense clarity when she sings “But soon the curtains came down on us / Blame was laid and questions raised / And so like leaves we were scattered.”
In “Nothing But Love,” Moody plucks a raw banjo as she sings, “Babe we’re living in the red and it’s making me blue.” While harsh realities are laid bare and fully owned, the connection between her and her lover is strong enough to weather the tick-tock of life’s clock as she ends the stanza with “If love is everything, then we’ve got nothing without love.” With the Celtic-tinged song of remembrance, “Life Is Long,” a low whistle mists across the song as if its hovering inches above the Atlantic off an Irish coastline. Again, and in pristine perfection, Moody lilts her voice and damn-near tearfully speaks to a friend who now lives far beyond the skies. Giving the song a painful depth, Moody gives us a peak into the song’s origin when she sings openly, “It was one year ago, That we came to Geordie Bay / Long before you closed your eyes, And your body slipped away.”
It’s in that song where Moody sums up the marriage of nature and the unpredictable hope for our lives on Earth as she ends the tune by singing, “We have time, love, we have time. For life is long, love, life is long.”
For Moody, life was too short to sit on these intense songs and wait for the Jennys to wail. She let her own nature dictate this record’s beautiful path.