Ruth Garbus - Kleinmeister
I go back to Ruth’s music over and over again. She has the best, weirdest chord changes, the catchiest and most exotic melodies and lyrics, distilled over what I imagine to be many months and years.
To me her songs reaffirm the power of music itself and its basic elements - big and small intervals placed just so in time, the play of sound and meaning in words, parts put together without force or artifice. Ruth is one of my favorite singer-songwriters ever. - Chris Cohen
Kleinmeister, the new album by Ruth Garbus, is a rarity, the holy wastewater of folk-rock decanted into the Lake of Avalon by a provincial plebe, turned into wine. It is sublime, and absurd, and infused with the green hills, grey cemeteries, and plastic detritus of her Brattleboro, Vermont home.
These compositions come from an odd but familiar world, chiaroscuro silver litter in the beam of a flashlight. In Garbus’s voice, too, the dark and light are combined - even the highest pitches contain pools of undertones, a depth. (She became fully expressed as a mezzo soprano, in both her range and her soul, with the aid of opera singer Jim Anderson, whom she studied with in 2017/18.)
The first track of Kleinmeister is “Strash,” a sensual ode inspired by the book Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte, with unison singing by Julia Tadlock. This is followed by “Pain,” which builds in size and scope toward a kind of operatic emo-political drama, and achieves levitation with piano played by Travis Laplante (Battle Trance, Subtle Degrees), who also acted as producer, and additional production by Ryan Power, who mixed the album.
From there, Kleinmeister moves into barer bones, highlighting Garbus's resonant voice, rhythmic guitar, and the impeccable recording quality - it was recorded to two-inch tape at Guilford Sound in Guilford, VT by Dave Snyder. Sparse, skewed harmonies, sometimes sung by Tadlock, lilt throughout. The final track, “Fetty Wah,” features Laplante again, this time on tenor saxophone, with improvised melody lines that uplift but still contain a bit of the sorrow of the world.
Garbus’s prior solo recordings - 2010's Rendezvous with Rama LP and the EP’s Ruthie's Requests, Joule EP, and Hello Everybody - have been released on Burger Records, Autumn Records, Feeding Tube Records, and OSR Tapes. Currently, in addition to her solo performances, she improvises vocally with an experimental quintet featuring Wendy Eisenberg, Donny Shaw, Neil Young, and Andy Allen. She was previously in the bands Happy Birthday and Feathers.