My Little Heart, Ruthie is a children’s book accompanied by an 11-track CD composed and narrated by vocalist Toni Jannotta. The book’s illustrations are made by artist Jennifer Mones. Told through rhyme, the story opens the reader’s consciousness about the human heart’s need to love and to be loved in return. The smooth jazz-inspired score functions as background scenery for Jannotta’s spoken words. Performing the ballads are Carol Robbins on harp, Jon Crosse on trumpet, Granville “Danny” Young on acoustic bass, Paul Tavenner on drums, and Jannotta on piano and vocals.
The first two tracks, “Ruthie” and “Hope,” feature the reflective musings of Jannotta on piano. The mood shows hints of loneliness, as the keys meander aimlessly and alone. “The Beginning” delves into the story, sharing with the audience that the character’s heart is named Ruthie. It’s a lonely heart seeking warmth as Jannotta describes: “My little heart, Ruthie / Laid down in her cell / The walls were so cold … She wanted to feel a warmth that was real / But she felt just a chill in the air.”
Crosse’s swirling trumpet gives “The Tender Breeze” an uplifting feel that lightens the solemn mood produced by Robbins’ harp. The lyrics are self-deprecating: “Now who would be speaking to me / I’m just a sad heart / Not even smart / Now what does this breeze want from me … This breeze, it is speaking to me / If it sees me this way / I know it will say / How stinky, how ugly, how lonely, how tired, how wafflely, awfully mean.”
The bubbly movements of Young’s bass, in coordination with the traipsing notes of the trumpet, breathes shards of happiness into “Dance with Me.” The recording introduces a potential buddy for Ruthie in “Clyde” but the self-deprecating image that Ruthie shaped for herself returns in “Lonesome.” Sadness resonates in the score for “Music Hears Music,” as the trumpet’s wails turn dark, dragging its notes.
The journey moves on with Ruthie reluctant to leave her self-imposed loneliness and Clyde working to coax the heart towards him, towards warmth. The instruments reflect the change, turning cheerful in “Clyde’s Waltz” and gentle in “Freedom,” as Ruthie leaves her shell, feeling healed by the warmth of Clyde.
It’s a touching story set to musical scores that mirror the emotions expressed in the lyrics. Tenderly recited, Jannotta shows a sensitivity for the lyrics that translates into real life. Ruthie is in everyone and Clyde is out there too, searching for Ruthie. It’s a story that both parent and child will find opens their consciousness.