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Music Review: Nanci Griffith – Ruby’s Torch

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“Fly me to the moon/And let me play among the stars/Let me see what spring is like/On Jupiter and Mars” my roommate would sing during his daily, hour-long shower. Seriously, his room hadn’t seen the up-side of a vacuum in six months, and there were large, plastic bags full of dirty clothes, but his body was sleek and shiny from more soap than they see in Ireland in the month of August. But since the water was free in that old apartment, and his Sinatra was pretty good, I never minded.

Torch songs – the affectionate name for the flowery, dream like pop songs from decades ago, are all but lost in the world domination of pop music that has come in the land of MTV, Christina Aguilera, “SexyBack” and freaking Emo, whatever that is. Edith Piaf, Frank Sinatra, and Peggy Lee are no longer names that register excitement anymore. If they click at all, it’s probably titled something along the lines of grandma's music.

Nanci Griffith would like to change all of that, and with her new album, Ruby’s Torch, she is bringing that old style back – with a twist.

It isn’t an album full of song’s long forgotten – growing dust from decades of unuse. No, these songs are still (mostly) new and full of life. She’s playing her own songs, and tunes from such different writers as Jimmy Webb and Tom Waits – yeah, that Tom Waits. Ruby’s Torch takes the new and makes it old again.

It is an interesting, if not wholly successful effort. The songs are beautiful in their essence and the production is sweeping and high class. Arrangements are full of that old style pop sheen. Yet, there is something that doesn’t quite connect about this album. I can’t say exactly what that missing connection is, but it is there just the same.

I’m not in any way protective of these songs, so there isn’t any knee-jerk reaction to hearing Tom Waits made into something more all together smooth and silky. The treatments of the songs suit me just fine for what it is. And Nanci’s little girl voice is mostly serene and sublime (if only a little unsuited for the music now and again.) It’s more like the songs seem perfect for the back ground of a romantic dinner or a nice black tie affair, but aren’t quite the songs I’d find myself listening to intently with headphones on a Saturday night.

Perhaps that says more about my youthfulness than the music itself. Maybe I am simply a dullard thinking this album is more appropriate for my grandmother’s birthday. I am not above admitting this may be all my own fault.

It is beautiful music, and I suspect I’ll find myself playing it whenever my mother-in-law (a grandma herself) comes over to visit, or when I cook up something special for just me and the wife. And maybe someday, somewhere, someone will find themselves singing these songs during an hour long shower.

There are worse fates music could find itself in.

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About Mat Brewster