Sparky & Rhonda Rucker
Sweet and sure
by Kate Conner-Ruben
The first time I played Sparky and Rhonda Rucker's CD Treasures & Tears on my computer, the screen froze and then went black, but the music kept on playing, sweet and sure. The Ruckers play music from a simpler time in America, and it's undoubtedly best to see them live, with as little technology as possible between you and their music. That's the way you can see them at the Ark on Monday, March 29. Before and after, you can keep them close with their fine CD, which earned the couple a Handy Award nomination back in '91.
Sparky Rucker, who had left a job as a schoolteacher to embrace the life of a traveling folk/blues troubadour, was joined in his journey in 1986 by his wife, Rhonda, who turned her back on a medical degree. Since then, the couple's been a fixture on the folk scene, playing festivals, clubs, concert series, and schools all over the country.
Sparky plays blues and sings with a soul linked to a troubled, joyous, complicated history. Even an old chestnut like "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" emerges with its ancient violence intact fittingly, since Sparky dedicates the song to the black soldiers who stormed the hellish "Crater" at the siege of Petersburg during the Civil War. His "Buffalo Soldier Suite" melds several songs about African American soldiers during the Civil War. In "Footprints on Your Ceiling," as in many other songs on the album, he's joined by his wife's moaning, sighing presence on harmonica. It's so nice to hear a woman playing harmonica. Rhonda's style is much less about the number of notes played per second and more about supporting the song. It's relaxed, but powerful in its restraint.
The last track on the album combines two songs about the sinking of the Titanic and one old gospel tune into a memorial that is heart-stopping in its simplicity. When I was done weeping, I thought about all the millions of dollars spent on that movie a few years back, the not-to-scale ships that were built, the thousands of actors and extras, the computers and technicians and costume designers and lawyers and Celine Dion. And I'm just not sure that it was any more powerful than two people singing three old songs for just over six minutes.
[Originally published in March, 2004.]