Martin Ruby (from the album Heaven Get Behind Me available on WhistlePig Records) (by Chris Wheatley)
Some lives are less straight-forward than others. As we approach the tail-end of a very strange year, a time when usually we would be collectively coasting peacefully towards a holiday season, it seems that the music coming my way grows more and more interesting. None could be more intriguing than Martin Ruby's debut album Heaven Get Behind Me. Martin Ruby, it turns out, is not a person but a band, lead by multi-disciplinary creative Marco North, here credited as supplying vocals, 6 and 12-string acoustic guitars, electric guitars, dobro, banjola, saxophone, harmonica, cloud chamber bowls, calliope, pump organ and foot-stomps.
Born in New York, North is known for his stories, poems, plays, film-work (including shots for John Lennon and Yoko Ono), and his interviews with the likes of David Bowie and Liza Minelli. He lectured at New York University and The School of Visual Arts and played saxophone in an ‘unsigned surf punk band’. This, it seems, it just half the story. When North's daughter, at the age of two, was kidnapped by her mother and taken to Moscow, a desperate North followed. For thirteen years since he has lived in Moscow, struggling, it seems, for a long time against the system to raise and care for his child. Now happily remarried (still residing in Russia), a close brush with death inspired North to write and record Heaven Get Behind Me, at a time when his own mortality was at risk.
That's some backstory, and a mind-boggling set-up for an album which name-checks Fellini, features a striking cover reminiscent of René Magritte and was recorded at home utilizing, amongst other instruments, a 100-year old parlour guitar and an 1887 Pollman banjola. “Fellini Was Dying”, the album's first track, lurches like a weary drunk, yet one who has not altogether let go of the sweetness of life. North's acoustic guitar is as rough-edged as his voice, and just as affecting. Against a backdrop of street sounds, the song staggers with pathos and pain. Crucially, it is also full of beauty, both in the ringing, vibrating strings and in North's emotional delivery. It is a simple, yet clever composition, delivered with no little skill.
“Long Tall Man” is sparkling, circling Americana, with twanging guitar hovering like a vulture; a deep, dusty confessional ballad, punctuated by slide guitar, ‘Burning nothing but bad gasoline’ sings North. The power lies in the music's almost unbearable rawness. North's poetry is hard-edged and cynical, compassionate and true; uniquely American in tone. ‘She reads the letters, decides which to let through’, intones North on “The Letter Reader”, a sparsely-adorned meditation, each note replete with longing and fear. The album's most poignant moment comes on “Sebastopol,” when North's daughter Eve can be heard, harmonizing with her father.
“Stone Blind Rain” drips with pathos. Harmonica and cloud chamber bowls lend delicate, flashing adornment. The wonder, with this album, is that everything feels intensely ‘real’. There is no artifice here, only art, and North's art is immediately connecting and approachable, harking back to the ages-old tradition of Folk music: music for 'folk', music for us all. ‘They say it' a good day to die’ sings North and there is no melodrama here, merely humanity. (by Chris Wheatley)
Listen and buy the music of Martin Ruby from AMAZON
For more information head on over to the Martin Ruby website