Ruth Minnikin and Her Bandwagon: Depend on This
Long Mill Music
Ruth Minnikin is best known for her work with the Heavy Blinkers and the Guthries but with ‘Depend On This’, the second album issued under her own name, once again Ruth surprises us and goes off at another tangent much like she did when she contributed so much to brother Gabriel’s first solo album, ‘Hard Feelings’. It’s a sure bet that in years to come it will be for albums such as ‘Depend On This’ and ‘Hard Feelings’ that Ruth is praised for rather than for her currently better known work with her previous bands.
‘Folk Art’, Ruth’s previous solo album, was, as the title suggests, a stripped-back collection of acoustic songs, which at the time, given her previous work with The Heavy Blinkers, was an unexpected departure. Now, with ‘Depend On This’, Ruth has taken yet another road, one that at times almost merges with some of the music she made with the Heavy Blinkers, but Ruth, never one to take the easy route, has once again produced not only something sufficiently different from her previous work so as to keep us all interested but along the way has made the best album of her long career.
To read the track listing it would appear that Ruth has presented us with six new songs that appear in two different versions. To be honest I listened to this album for the first time all the way through without checking out the song titles and so different are the two versions of each song that I failed to notice on the first playing that the songs were, in fact, duplicated.
For those people who wonder sometimes what a producer actually does to a song when it is recorded then ‘Depend On This’ offers up the answer. The first six versions of the songs were produced by Ruth and Andrew Watt, the second versions were produced and rearranged by Chuck Biazevic and it’s amazing just how different the vision of the producers can change the songs. Take the opening song, ‘The Theme Song 1’ for example ; the horns and vocals are dismissed completely on ‘The Theme Song 2’ where we are left with Ruth’s wordless vocals and a variety of weird and wonderful sounds which transform the original song into something completely different but no less wonderful.
The title track, one of the strongest on the album, is drenched in pedal steel and banjo on version 1 while on the second version electronics take over which strangely add a dreamy texture to the song. In fact the whole of the ‘second side’ of the album has a more dream-like quality and the repetitiveness of some of the lyrics and melodies is quite addictive.
‘Animals Of Bremen’ is a fine example where the first version is, in many ways, the more sparse take even with samples of animal sounds weaving in and out of the music and the pedal steel and banjo again stealing the show only to be out shadowed by the second version, where although the amount of instruments used is surely less the strings take you on a dreamlike journey from which you just don’t want to wake. Again, it’s incredible how two different producers can take the same song and construct such completely different versions yet still retain all of the songs beauty.
It’s obvious looking over Ruth Minnikin’s past work that she is something of an unique talent. Ruth is not only one of the best singers of these times but she has an extraordinary vision and is not afraid to take chances with her music. The closing song, ‘Finale’ is like three different songs mixed into one which would be jarring in less talented hands but Ruth moulds it into something interesting.
One thing this album does urge me to do is to place the songs so that the two different versions of the songs run directly after each other rather than wait until they come around again five songs later. It works well and just for the moment I like to keep it that way as it’s like hearing an extended version of each song but when I want to drift away from this world for a while then version two of all the songs one after the other is the way to go.
Ruth Minnikin has taken a brave move to present her songs like this and far from just duplicating six good songs she has proven that the possibilities are endless with a good producer and a great song.
This has been one of the most surprising and satisfying albums I have heard in a long time and I look forward to hearing what Ruth Minnikin does next.