Lion Dog Music
1414 21st Avenue
Seattle, WA 98122
A review written for the Folk and Music Exchange
by Mark O'Donnell
Outside of Charlie Patton, John Fahey is probably recognized as the founder of the American primitive guitar school which, for better or worse, has lead to New Age music. It was Fahey (in his ethnomusicologist guise) who hunted down the obscure recordings of Patton, Robert Johnson, and others on the backroads of the deep South, took their licks, and transformed them into something new. It was Fahey who served as the entrepreneurial prototype for William Ackerman and Windham Hill by founding Takoma Records back in 1959. And it was Fahey who discovered and recorded other talented guitarists such as Robbie Basho, Leo Kottke, and Peter Lang. We owe him much. One of his discoveries, Rick Ruskin, has followed the same path Fahey blazed so long ago, quietly plying his craft while founding his own homegrown label in the Northwest. Ruskin first recorded for Takoma back in 1972, left the label, moved north, and has been issuing his own well-crafted tunes since then. His latest effort is Words Fail Me issued on his Lion Dog label.
Rick Ruskin, like Fahey, Lang, and Kottke, is a skilled acoustic guitarist who writes his own tunes. The difference, however, is the application of a singular style and viewpoint developed over decades. One of the approaches that distinguishes Ruskin from his colleagues is his defining use of the bass, which, on several of the tunes contained herein, provides a significant accompaniment to the treble melody. This bass accompaniment can be found on Model Railroad, and Glass Guitar" as well as on Hey There, Baby. Many of these songs evidence a pleasing, jaunty feel with low-key funky basslines that keep the melodies moving. Lullaby, by contrast, is as the name implies a soft, lilting, hummable tune perfect to sending a child off to sleep. Ruskin has quite a nice way with a melody, as is most readily apparent on Art By Accident, where the treble lines and accompanying bass complement each other and provide a memorable balance. Satchel, too, is a great, catchy tune which again employs a great funky bassline, as well as some nicely underplayed drumming/fingersnapping.
Some of the tunes are almost like old friends---there being something familiar in the tune; Gratitude and Places To Hide come to mind here. Ironically, given the album title, implying an all-instrumental effort, there are two songs with Ruskin's heartfelt vocal accompaniment. These also happen to be the only two tunes with other instrumentation and, frankly, neither works well. The break in instrumentation only serves to jar the mood created by the intimate recording of the unaccompanied acoustic guitar on the other songs. Despite Ruskin's pleasant voice, as in Words Fail Me, ultimately, the songs do not work in the overall context of the album. Still twelve out of fourteen is not bad. Rick Ruskin is one of those artists with subtlety and skill who deserve a much wider audience. One can only hope that NPR or the like will find this recording and give it a national airing. Ruskin deserves to be heard, as does this well-recorded and generally quite intimate recording.
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Edited by David Schultz