Ruth Gerson’s latest album is full of woeful tales of love, lust and murder — especially murder. Drawing on the English ballad tradition with such songs as “Omie Wise” and “Little Sadie”, Gerson turns her silky but angst-ridden voice to American mutations of these stories in songs like “Ode to Billie Joe” and “Knoxville Girl”. Fans of old Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention records will be delighted with her new take on timeless material. There are modern songs too, like Dolly Parton’s “Down from Dover”, which benefits from a killer arrangement here.
The record’s sound is primarily acoustic, but there are enough unexpected accents to keep things interesting: guitar effects, banjo, harmonica, various percussion and other sounds all add to the stew. It’s Gerson’s voice, though, that ties the proceedings together, along with the dark thematic material. These are lovely songs, beautifully sung, about horrible things, brutally done. Need another reason to listen? Proceeds from the record reportedly will be donated to domestic violence organizations.