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Melissa Ruth & the Likely Stories


Riding Mercury picks up where 2011's Ain't No Whiskey left off: Post-recession rural America, eking out a love, a living, a life.
"Most of the songs on Riding Mercury were written somewhere between Hell and high water," says Ruth. "I was working and traveling a lot the year after Ain't No Whiskey came out. Aside from maintaining a full-time music teaching gig and booking, promoting and touring behind Whiskey, my mother was battling cancer and I lost three grandparents. I logged a lot of lonely miles."
While the songs on Riding Mercury explore these depths, the album is not autobiographical. Says Ruth of the songs: "They are stories that are filtered through the lens of my experiences."
Ruth is credited with writing, arranging and producing all of the songs on the album.
"When I decided that I was ready to record, I went straight back to the well. The Leal brothers are my family and they have been my band since we made Ain't No Whiskey in 2010. When I told them I wanted to make another record with them, they were 100% in."
Ruth booked time at her favorite studio in town, nabbed sound engineer Don Ross (Mason Williams) and got busy. 17 drum mics, 2 bassists, a bottle of whiskey and one late-night rehearsal later Melissa Ruth & The Likely Stories were ready to roll.
In an effort to capture the raw spirit of the songs, most of the rhythm tracks where recorded live, in one room. "We love the ease of digital recording but we like to take an analog approach," says guitarist Johnny Leal. "What you get is what you get and we think we get a lot more when we record together."
Johnny's brother Jimmy Leal plays drums and Rick DeVol and Scoop McGuire play bass on the album.
Ruth plays guitar, banjo and keys but it's her voice that is the stand-out, rich and throaty. "My voice has taken on a life of it's own," says Ruth. "After nearly a decade of having to sing through every nasty cold and flu that has ripped through my school, this is what I'm left with. Let's just say that it's definitely broke-in."
It is Melissa's sultry alto that effectively transforms the mundane into the incendiary as her lyrics often offer us an intimate look at the everyday. Take, for instance, her repeated line in Your Love, one of the album's numerous smoldering ballads: "I don't know why I questioned your love." The line proves to be at turns both regretful and reassuring. This is also true of the question she asks in her barn-burner, Lonely World. "Ain't it a lonely world?" We regret to agree. We are reassured in doing so.
Some artists are over-zealous in their exploration of rural America, romanticizing it by way of kitsch Americana or the boot-stomping traditionalism of current trend. Melissa Ruth, on the other hand, keeps her songs set in the wide-open spaces she in known for, soundscapes shot through with her beloved 1958 Guild electric guitar and the sparse, lyrical phrasing of her bandmates.
Ruth: "Riding Mercury has its roots in rural and road weary America. There's a lot of desperation here. There's also a lot of hope. That's what Riding Mercury is all about; the swing between the poles, the dance in the dark."
Melissa Ruth was born and raised in rural British Columbia. She and her husband Johnny Leal have been music teachers at high-poverty rural public schools in Oregon for nearly ten years. In that time Melissa has been the director of a number of award-winning youth ensembles. Ruth and Leal are also private music instructors, donating their time to disadvantaged youth in their community.
Riding Mercury is the third release on Melissa's label Both Ears Records where she also books and manages her band.
This year, Ruth is on sabbatical from teaching to support her latest release.