Saturday, 27 July 2013

The evolution of Ruth Osman: Letting Go - a CD Review¹

Ruth Osman launched her debut CD, “Letting Go” on the first weekend in July in a pair of spectacularly produced concerts at the Little Carib Theatre. Those concerts set a new benchmark for these kinds of events here, and one wishes that all CD launches operate at this level of professionalism where production value is honoured and audience expectation are not dashed.

The production team of Jason Dasent and his team at Studio Jay Recording Ltd created a new milieu for Ruth in the concert and on the record. On this 10-track CD, this Guyanese song bird has evolved from the easy elegance of her tropical neo-folk acoustic trio, Jacoustik—featuring Marva Newton and James Fenton on guitar and congas respectively—to the lush layering of synthesizers and background vocal harmonies of this recording.

In an instant, the listener realises that this record is making a commercial statement beyond the confines of the neo-folk genre. The worldliness of the production signals a departure from the status quo for this singer who has been performing in T&T for over five years. A couple tracks work well in this new milieu of layered sounds namely “New Blues” with the organ that mimics the Doors/Ray Manzarek sound over a jazz waltz tempo. The bluesy wail is not missed as Ruth channels the lyrics intent; a series of repeated couplets professing love and asking for a continued presence, “Don’t ever leave, boy. / You’ve got what I need.

The album closer, “The People” is a pop track that loses the tenderness of Ruth’s folk voice in a production that would benefit from a power voice, but the tune bristles with an energy that is addictive. Ruth’s voice possesses an elastic quality easily moving from the enhanced vibrato singing voice à la Stevie Nicks to a throaty falsetto that reaches higher octaves. That voice characteristic, sadly, is not accented on this record but placed dryly beside the music.

That stark juxtaposition of the mix of voice and music which plagues the rest of the album may be a deficiency that certainly should not impede the decision to purchase this new local music not tied to Carnival cycle. This album is a collection of influences, international and obviously superlative. Album opener “The Sea” reminds this reviewer of the production values of Basia and Danny White with its close harmony on the background vocals by Candice Corbie, Lisette Khan, Alisa Collymore and Sarah Joseph-Dasent.

Ruth is a songwriter, and her poetic lyrics are given life in this lush setting. These songs, which Ruth previously performed acoustically, are treasures for their note-worthy lyricism. A collection of affirmations and love songs in the true sense, her power with the word is neither airy nor vapid, but speaks to the essence to what love is; love for her child, love for her husband, love of nature. “Little Darlin’”, a lullaby for her young daughter is set only with piano, flute and conga, and beautifully tells of a mother’s calming voice and, yes, love.

Ruth informed this writer that of the dozens of songs that she had available for this album these were in her opinion the “commercial” ones. The pop sensibility of Jason and Ruth has stripped any "tropicality" from these songs leading one to believe that the intent is on the music more so than the personality. Even a cover of Shadow’s “Dingolay” smoothens out the urgent danceability of the original concentrating on the message in the words. The voice does not bubble. The track “Rain” retains the simple acoustic setting of old featuring John Hussain on acoustic guitar with a little Hammond organ sweetening. This song‘s uncluttered production where voice and lyric are given prominence is an echo to her roots and is missed elsewhere on this album.

The opportunity to work with Jason Dasent came from him listening to Ruth sing at an event in 2012 where they both performed, and his subsequent pursuit to place her in a setting at his studio. This CD represents one part of a larger effort by the Studio Jay team to place local music in the global market place especially Europe. Ruth, and in a sense the local music industry will also benefit from a DVD of the launch concert later this year which will reinforce the marketing of this singer in the wider global marketplace. A concert, a CD and DVD are good dividends for the future for Ruth Osman.

  1. An edited version of this article appears in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian published as Letting Go shows maturity in Osman's music
© 2013, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

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