Bright and ascending
From the January, 2018 issue
I saw Carly Simon in a solo concert in 1972, sitting at a piano and singing in a mid-sized hall. It was only a year after she'd released her first recording, which won her a Grammy for Best New Artist. My seat was near the back, but she was still mesmerizing. I recalled that concert recently as I watched YouTube videos of Canadian singer-songwriter Ruth B. Their voices aren't similar, and their music has little in common, but I was seeing both artists showing great promise at the beginning of their careers.
Simon went on to create remarkable music for decades. We won't know Ruth B.'s trajectory for some time, but, like Simon, she is off to a notable start. She's already won a Juno, Canada's equivalent of the Grammys, for Breakthrough Artist of the Year and was also nominated for Songwriter of the Year.
Born Ruth Berhe, Ruth B. is only twenty-two and just released her first album, Safe Haven, last year. But her songwriting and performing already show elements of the sureness and confidence of a mature artist, even as she retains a bubbling, youthful enthusiasm and a shy, aw-shucks smile. Cameras love her, a quality which certainly helped when she started building her following about four years ago on the now defunct social media app Vine and on YouTube.
Even in those videos, and certainly in concert clips, she presents her songs more than herself, usually dressing plainly in black jeans and a T-shirt or, in more formal settings, an elegant black jacket over a white blouse. She can command a room with just her voice and piano, and even in large outdoor venues, accompanied by a keyboard, bass, and drums trio, she sits or strolls, rather than struts, about the stage. Her spare and simple piano playing perfectly complements her supple voice, which transitions smoothly from full-throated fervor to effortless falsetto and back again. She lets her lyrics and singing engage audiences, who
are increasingly responding by singing along, choir-like, word for word.
As with many young songwriters, her songs are about the stuff of her life; relationship concerns dominate. But here too, as in her stage persona, she shows a preference for more than the surface. In "Superficial Love" she sings, "You're really cute I must admit / But I need something deeper than this / I wanna know when I'm looking at you / That you don't only see the things you want to." She sings with a healthy strength, "And if you wanna keep me then you better treat me / Like a damn princess, make that an empress."
It is impossible to predict Ruth B.'s future, but when she visits the Ark on January 30, it will be a chance to see an artist whose star may be ascending--and who already shines bright.
[Originally published in January, 2018.]
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