Ruth Cameron

Roadhouse

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On her first full-length album, following the previous year's seven-song EP First Songs, Ruth Cameron continues to take a considered, deliberate approach to standards, backed by a small band anchored by her husband, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Larance Marable, augmented by one of three pianists and usually a saxophone or violin. The title Roadhouse suggests a far more raucous style than the one actually employed here; maybe the album should have been called After-Hours Nightclub instead. The tempos are very slow, the keys minor, and Cameron's vocals are as much spoken as sung. These are calm, quiet performances, which can give the songs an air of restrained passion, especially when the lyric has the complexity and subtext of "Something Cool" and "One for My Baby," the album's first two songs. Not all of the material is well suited to the interpretations, however. In particular, Cameron's reading of "Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe" works against the lyric; she may sing that, when Joe kisses her "it's Christmas everywhere," but she doesn't sound like that's anything to celebrate. If her plain-spoken, hold back the emotions approach adds depth to a lightly wistful song like "Willow Weep for Me," it robs feeling from what should be a warmly affectionate one like "My Old Flame." And the album's unrelenting tone is ultimately enervating; if she really performed this material as a set in a roadhouse, she'd likely be performing only to overturned chairs and a dozing bartender by the end.

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