AUSTIN, Texas — When she’s not traveling between schools as the band and choir teacher for a rural Oregon school district, singer-songwriter Melissa Ruth puts 30,000 miles a year on her touring vehicle — and with the March 1 release of her new album, Meteor, she’s about to add a chunk to 2019’s tally. To celebrate the album’s arrival, Ruth will perform a string of late-March California and Oregon shows, culminating with a March 30 date for hometown fans at the Axe & Fiddle Public House in Cottage Grove, Oregon.
Meteor’s 11 original tracks, all penned, arranged and produced by Ruth, ride a sonic highway paved in bluesy Americana, dotted with stretches of what she calls “doo-wop twang” —which she defines as “the space of blues, the teeth of country and the grit of rock ‘n’ roll.” Recorded in just two days, most of those tracks were captured in just one take. She was able to move that fast in part because of the players accompanying her expressive alto vocals and guitar, keyboard and concertina work: Johnny Leal on lead, rhythm and slide guitar, Simon Lucas on drums and Rick DeVol on bass. All three once played together in Big Earl & the Cryin’ Shame, a northern California blues band, but hadn’t done so since 2006. As soon as they hit the studio together, that dozen-year gap just melted away.
Leal is also Ruth’s other half in the duo Midnight Darlins, and in life. When they’re not hitting the road, they hang out on several rural acres with a menagerie of assorted animals. Ruth is also producing a live album for the Slow Ponies, an all-female band that plays tunes from the golden era of silver-screen westerns. (Until taking a break to focus on her new release, she performed regularly with the band for six years.)
Ruth’s love for the settings of those films is also manifested in the video she recorded for the album’s final track, “You are Not Alone.”
“I wrote ‘You Are Not Alone’ as a kind of love song to all of us, to everyone who has ever felt alone,” Ruth told Glide magazine. “I call the west, particularly the rural west, my home. The west can still be a wild and rugged place in many ways. … The video was filmed in a tiny timber town along the I-5 corridor, a place that is near to my heart, a place that grew me up quicker than any place ever has. It’s a tough little place. Yet these scenes of community are from within, the heartbeat, hidden just the other side of the tree line. … These are real folks just doing their thing, reminding me that I am not alone.”
Music can make vast spaces feel less empty, make long roads seem shorter, make 30,000 miles go by as fast as a meteor’s flash. It can make you feel like you are not alone, especially when it’s shared. That’s what sends Ruth down those roads and across those miles. Join her, if you can, at one of the following tour stops.
Melissa Ruth tour dates
March 23 – Torch Club, Sacramento, California (opening for Mr. December)
March 24 – Ralston’s Goat, Modesto, California
March 26 – Mad River Brewing, Blue Lake, California
March 28 – Alberta Street Pub, Portland, Oregon (with Green Mountain Guild and Go Fever)
March 29 – Brewers Union Local 180, Oakridge, Oregon
March 30 – the Axe & Fiddle Public House, Cottage Grove, Oregon