Ruth Purves Smith & the 581 review


Ruth Purves Smith & the 581

Faster Than the Speed of Dark

A bit more than five years ago, an experienced Alberta-based singer, songwriter, and band leader made herself known to me. Ruth Purves Smith has been part of the Alberta performing community for several years, but only made her recorded debut, under her own name, in 2010 with the exceptional Out In the Storm, an album of country music more “Americana” than much of what was coming out of Nashville.

With her backing band The 581, Purves crafted a complex album that revealed greater richness and depth each listening. It was an incredible little release, and the accompanying live performance—I had the pleasure of catching her in Red Deer with a large group of collaborators—was a highlight of that summer’s listening.

Fast forward to 2016, and Ruth Purves Smith & the 581 return with Faster Than the Speed of Dark, an equally complex and satisfying creation featuring another eleven songs that breathe with the life of Alberta’s prairie shadowed by clouds of trepidation. [The album had its local release late in 2015, and made its way to me last month…and then I misplaced it and only found it again today. Apologies all around.]

“Get Outa This Town” is the album’s energetic lead track, a raucous number that pulses with free-spirited energy, just the type of song that might have stood a chance in the days when radio was a bit more interested in good music. “Gone to Stay” has a similar feel, roots music invigorated by touches of Celtic soul and rockin’ bravado.

More reflective is “Big Skies,” a poetic piece capturing the thrilling isolation of the rural experience. The outlaw spirit of the province is further reflected in “Alberta Horse Thief Swing,” a tune Corb Lund would be proud to call his own. Earning for place and security, the title track brings to mind Iris DeMent.

Faster Than the Speed of Dark is more than another country album. There are moments of rock & roll aggression, as on “Shadow of a Doubt,” a piece that allows co-producer Jim Kukko (or David Holloway) to kick out the jams more than a little. “Scuppers’ Wife” has an old-world/Appalachian feel—think Jean Ritchie fronting The Waterboys—and like many of the old tunes I have no real idea what it is about. “Falling,” written by Esther Purves Smith, has a mid-90s Mary Chapin Carpenter vibe, as does the set’s closer “So Little,” a song that puts us all in our collective place.

The 581 remains consistent from last time out with Kukko again the feature guitarist, and Kathy Cook sweetening the vocal mix while dropping in mandolin. Brian Sovereighn returns on bass, David Holloway is the second lead guitarist, while Adam Esposito is the drummer.

If one is fortunate enough to be so inclined, there exists such richness within the Alberta roots music community. Next week I journey to the big city to listen to Mike Plume, as the local hero re-establishes himself after a decade or so in Nashville.

We have Steve Coffey, Maria Dunn, Laura Vinson, Craig Moreau, John Wort Hannam, Matt Patershuk, and scores upon dozens of others sharing their music with those willing to listen. If you haven’t already, add Ruth Purves Smith & the 581 to the list of regional folks who can stand with the best of those featured on the pages of No Depression, the Bluegrass Situation, and Country Standard Time.

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