Both Sides of the Coin - Ruarri Joseph Album Review
Ruarri Joseph has been in the music business now for quite a while.
He started off playing in pubs in his native Newquay about three years ago and landed a deal with Atlantic Records in late 2006, allowing him to reach a larger audience with his debut album 'Tales of Grime and Grit'. Success followed rapidly, with a headline UK tour, festival sets and support slots for artists such as David Gray, Paolo Nutini and Funeral for a Friend. Often hailed in the music press as the British Jack Johnson (he can surf too), it looked like Joseph had the perfect career trajectory.
However, when the time came to settle down to the second album for Atlantic, Joseph's creative juices were flowing in a different direction to that of the first album, mainly due to the fact that the songs he had written for 'Tales of Grime and Grit' had been penned almost a decade earlier when he was in his teens. Atlantic demanded more of the same while Joseph wanted to move in a more mature direction. After some soul-searching on a trip to Thailand, Joseph decided to start releasing songs on his own label, Pip Productions, leaving Atlantic in January 2008.
And what a good choice that was! All manner of catharsis is here, but even the songs that deal with the dark side are melodic and tuneful. Take album opener 'Suzie Don't be Sad" as an example. The press release that came with this album stated that this song was about a former family member who Joseph considered to be "the devil incarnate". This sentiment is not obvious from listening to the song; it is a folky-pop song with strains of Paolo Nutini. 'Red Mist' is similar in that it speaks of a creeping sense that the walls of Joseph's world are crumbling and that "the smoke and fire is alive and well in the red mist"; it articulates the singer's anger through the lyrics but melodically it is a smooth song, with a hip-shaking groove and jangly guitars. Second track 'One For The Aether' is a great pop song, Joseph is encouraging someone to dust themselves off after a bad experience, singing "it's your own two feet you need right now/not me and this old tune". It is also the only song I think I've ever heard with the word 'peccadillo' in it which is worth remarking on! Fourth track 'More than Most' evokes Tom Waits, with wistful piano and guitar arrangements; accordion joins later to augment the track but it does not take the shine off what is a simple composition. This is a break-up ballad with true heart and soul in it Joseph recognises his mistakes and articulates his feelings perfectly. The dark and Bill Withers-esque 'Adam's Wing' follows this. A vengeful ex-girlfriend of Joseph's provides the subject matter for this track, showing that he lets practically nothing get in the way of a pretty tune. This album is called 'Both Sides of the Coin' for a reason, and the shift in style is seen from this song onwards. Track 6, 'Tomorrow Today' is a folky song with a forward-looking and hopeful feeling, opening lines being "carry me weightless/with worry undone". Following this is 'Hope for Grey Trousers', for me the standout track of this album. It opens with a blues riff la The Black Keys, layering piano and a wee bit of drumming to carry the song along with its cheery vocals and get-up-and-dance attitude. Great lyrics on this one makes it a good song to stomp your way to work to: "Yes! My trousers are grey/but my heart stays gold to my dying day/I don't respond to authority/but I've got a blues harp in the key of C". Brilliant.
'A Turn in the Weather' and 'As Long as You Do Too' are both quite unusual in the rhythm of their lyrics, and are stripped down arrangements which nonetheless serve to make the songs even more beautiful as a result. There is a slight bluegrass-tinged banjo in there somewhere on 'As Long as You Do Too', a testimony to the talents and ability of Joseph; he played almost all the instruments on this album, and he could only bring them into the studio one at a time due to lack of space, it being recorded literally in his garden shed. Final track 'There Will Be' is an ear-catching love song about wires becoming uncrossed. Apparently written on the beach in Thailand when he was trying to decided his future, it is easy to see the great sense of relief Joseph felt once he had finally made his choice to split from Atlantic and go his own way. A turbulent few months in the lives of his family and friends have made their mark on this album. However, I instantly liked it and have listened to it numerous times (it has helped me move house recently). As Joseph himself says, "if you listen to this album from start to finish, the songs make you feel like you're moving from a dark place into the light. Er, if it's not too pretentious to say so." No mate, it surely isn't. I look forward to more from this young man.