Molly Ruth: A Force of Nature at Sunday Salon 12

by delarue

Molly Ruth sings with a wounded, raw but crystalline wail that will peel your skin. Sunday night at Zirzamin after the salon that this blog puts on every week, the charismatic songwriter left the crowd stunned and silent with her assaultive and wickedly catchy blend of oldtime acoustic blues, country and punk rock. Easy as it is to mix sex and religion for shock value, Molly Ruth does it as entertainingly as Tammy Faye Starlite. But Molly Ruth looks way back to guys like Blind Blake and before, sometimes mixing her metaphors, sometimes letting loose with a murderous exasperation. She barely said a word between songs, but she didn’t need to: her songs speak for themselves. Playing solo, she nonchalantly shifted between subtly fingerpicked blues, nimble ragtime, and a little straight-up country. The opening number, My Revelation’s Taking a Long Time to Come set the tone immediately. As funny as it was – “It may be little and weak, or it may break me into a million pieces,” she deadpanned – the not-so-hidden subtext that mingled with the mix of gospel and juicy innuendo was raw rage, the personal as political. Like a young Bob Dylan, she blends oldtime blues vernacular with a stream-of-consciousness surrealism. But she doesn’t rip off Dylan, lyrically or vocally, and she varied her vocals depending on the content of the song. She took that idea to its logical extreme on the night’s funniest number, where she played two characters, one more and more desperate for some kind of validation, the other sadistically playing oblivious and numb.

Maybe unintentionally, a bit of a Lucinda Williams vibe crept into the fullblown jealous insanity of the long, crescendoing punk-blues anthem A Million Fucking Whores (click the link above for a killer video from the Mercury Lounge last year). Ironically, the song that Molly Ruth belted the most intensely was a seemingly sincere, righteous (yeah, right) cover of Stand By Your Man. A casually biting fingerstyle blues sent her off searching for an alter ego who might have dropped everything and gone off to Africa “to escape expensive rent.” Loaded imagery – desolate extraterrestrial vistas, people cowering from some unnamed calamity or evil force, blood and guts and fire and brimstone – ran amok, but the plaintive, piercing way she delivered those scenes, they didn’t come across as over-the top. But they did pack a wallop. The narrator in the last song didn’t want to be cremated: she pleaded to be dismembered instead. And God, whatever he or it may be, was to be feared 24/7 –  for all the right reasons. Molly Ruth has been writing up a storm lately but hasn’t played a lot of shows (maybe that explains why) – she’ll be at Brooklyn Rod & Gun Club sometime in April.

Every Sunday at 5 PM, New York Music Daily presents the Sunday Salon at Zirzamin, where some of New York’s edgiest songwriters and musicians trade songs and cross-pollinate in the old Zinc Bar space at Houston and LaGuardia. There’s never a cover charge; the club has cheap beer, good Tex-Mex food, and the public is welcome to attend. Participation is by invitation only: you never know who might show up. The featured set at 7 PM this Sunday, Feb 3 is by brilliant guitarist and wry, purist Americana songwriter Homeboy Steve Antonakos.