Ruth Moody 2024
Photo: Jacqueline Justice / Propeller Publicity

Feeling “Seventeen”, Ruth Moody Goes Solo Again with ‘Wanderer’

While the Wailin’ Jennys are still playing their hearts out as three roots wonder women, co-founder Ruth Moody has new music and a special announcement to make.

Ruth Moody
True North Records
17 March 2024

Who came first? That can always be an intriguing but imposing question, whether discussing rock stars like Pete Townshend and his band aptly called the Who or the chicken and the egg. Ultimately, you may ask yourself: Who cares? 

Yet, if you’re among the flock of fervent followers who still bask in the glowing tunes of co-existing roots-folk artists like heavenly trio the Wailin’ Jennys and Australia-born, Canada-raised co-founder Ruth Moody, maybe it does matter. 

Especially since Moody, a classically trained singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist whose spirit of independence took her down a long and winding road almost 15 years ago, is back at center stage with all her own songs and a luxurious album that’s her first solo release since 2013. 

Along with presenting an exclusive premiere of “Seventeen”, the first single from the record, at PopMatters, Moody is pleased to make a huge announcement today (14 March). Her next solo album, appropriately titled Wanderer and available to pre-save, will be released on 17 May on Blue Muse Records (her own imprint, distributed by True North Records). 

Moody brings an exquisite soprano and a variety of instruments — guitar, accordion, banjo, and bodhran among them — to the studio and the stage with the Jennys. When time permits, she employs a hand-selected group of artists in a “solo” act. Yet, in a career dating back to 1997, the Juno Award-winning artist has integrated more than music into her life in recent years. 

Thus, Ruth Moody had a great excuse in 2016 for putting plans for another full-length solo record on hold after finding out she was pregnant. “I decided I’d leave it until after my son (Woodson) was born (in November 2016),” Ruth Moody shares this week in our PopMatters email interview after touring out West with fellow Jennys Nicky Mehta and Heather Masse. “Little did I know how much harder it would become! I made the Jennys record Fifteen when Woodson was only three months old, and touring that record was all that I could manage, so my solo stuff went on the back burner for a while. 

“I was gearing up to record again when Woodson was three, and then the pandemic happened. So it got postponed again. The way these things happen is funny, though. I’m truly so happy with how it turned out; somehow, it feels right to have waited until now. For one thing, a handful of the songs that ended up on the record weren’t written until much more recently.”

Now listen to the lovely first single “Seventeen”, a sweeping, swirling mix of nostalgia surrounding young love gone awry and what could have been, with striking vocals that conjure wistful images of 1960s-era Joni Mitchell. Then read on to learn more about Wanderer, the inspirations behind the songs, the guest artists who perform on them, and more, including — Who came first? 

Besides being about unrequited young love, “Seventeen” injects the name of one of the coolest alternative/garage bands of the period just in time to keep you from falling completely apart emotionally after a close listen or two. Moody lived on Mayne Island in British Columbia during the pandemic when she wrote the “important and therapeutic song” while likely thinking about those days growing up in Winnipeg. 

“It’s about that tender time, at the edge of adulthood, when there are so many feelings and so few tools to cope with them,” offers Ruth Moody, who plays mellotron on the track, along with her ever-present Collings acoustic guitar, a mainstay on eight of the album’s ten songs, all of which she wrote. “I was thinking about that time of my life, having a lot of memories and dreams, and remembering that thrill and that pain. Looking for clues, in a way. What is it that makes us feel safe enough to leap? What is it that makes us want to protect ourselves? We’re just figuring out who we are at that time of life if we’re lucky. It’s exhilarating. It’s confusing. It can be so devastating. But it’s something we all have to go through in our own way.” 

Ruth Moody
Photo: Michael Bialas

The Wonders of Wanderer 

While “Seventeen” is a diamond in Ruth Moody’s collection, there are plenty of other brilliant gems on Wanderer, recorded at Sound Emporium Studio A and East Iris Studio A in Nashville, where she served as co-producer with Dan Knobler

The title track is another jewel, one she wrote, “for my love”, Sam Howard, Woodson’s father. While they were in the studio, his parents, who live in Wyoming, arrived to provide a noble assist by watching after their grandchild. “We couldn’t have done it without them,” Moody notes. 

Howard, who’s appeared with other excellent Americana talents such as Molly Tuttle and Joy Williams, plays upright bass and provides background vocals on this album. The multi-instrumentalist has lived a nomadic existence in New York, Miami, Nashville, and Portland, Oregon. He’s also been a very witty collaborator in Moody’s touring band. I thoroughly enjoyed their performance at Denver’s Swallow Hill in June 2017, heightened by Moody’s version of “In My Life”, perhaps the best cover of any Beatles tune I’ve ever heard. 

“We’d been renting short-term places in Portland, Oregon, in between long stints on the road, and we were struggling with where to live and how to have a more grounded life,” Moody adds about Howard and how “Wanderer” applied to her. (She now splits time living between Nashville and Vancouver Island.)

“I am Canadian, and he is American, so it has always been a bit complicated,” she continues. “But there are those people in your life that calm you, that make you feel like you’re home when you’re with them, and it didn’t take me long to know that he was that person for me. As someone who has moved around a lot and spent more than half my life as a touring musician, it was a significant moment when I realized that even though we didn’t really know what we were doing or where we were going, I had already found home.” 

Others seen in the Ruth Moody Band who are on the album — both on violin and viola — were Adrian Dolan (string arrangements on “Comin’ Round the Bend”) and her older brother Richard Moody (“He’s played on every record I’ve ever made,” proud sister pronounces). She also recognized other session players such as: Jennys’ touring member Anthony da Costa, “an incredible guitar player and singer”; drummer Jason Burger, Knobler’s suggestion who “brought dimensions to the music I’d never even imagined”; keyboardist Kai Welch, “a deep musician who brought a really calming presence to the bed sessions”; Russ Paul (pedal steel), “whose playing (on ‘Michigan’ and ‘The Way Lovers Move’) makes me cry”; “wonderful” background vocalist Nicki Bluhm; and Moody’s “special” duet partner Joey Landreth on “The Spell of the Lilac Bloom”, a poetic paean heralding the dance with romance.  

Hearing the latter song for the first time at that 2017 show (with Howard on stage, while his mom — “the most amazing road granny” — cared for their seven-month-old son), I also remember Moody recalling “a really magical time of year, spring” in Portland, Oregon. That’s where “I wrote this for my love when Woodson was the size of a chickpea.” (The Ruth Moody Band will begin touring behind Wanderer in May; see the dates below.)

One last number I must recommend (while saving some secrets for craving listeners) is “North Calling”. Starting quietly with Moody’s angelic, crystalline voice and distinctive banjo, it swells into an assemblage of instrumental Americana anthemic beauty accompanied by elegant harmonies. Among the song’s players deserving high praise are da Costa (baritone electric guitar and other guitars), Richard Moody (mandolin), Nat Smith (cello), Will Honaker (synth), Alec Spiegelman (clarinet), and Christian Sedelmyer (violin). 

Planting the Seed 

Which brings us to the chicken-or-egg question. Before the Wailin’ Jennys, there was Scruj MacDuhk in 1997, a Winnipeg folk-roots band that included Moody and Leonard Podolak. The entertaining banjo player later formed the Duhks years after he and Ruth Moody grew up in the same Wolseley neighborhood she used to call “the Granola Belt of Winnipeg”. 

According to Jennys’ co-founder Mehta, their first official show was in 2002 at Sled Dog Music, a Winnipeg guitar shop. However, Moody, unbeknown to me and possibly many others, self-released a five-song, self-produced, solo EP that same year called Blue Muse. Yet my serendipitous introduction to the Jennys was through Moody’s first official full-length solo album, The Garden, in 2010. Without it, perhaps no Moody, no Jennys for me. 

After the first of several interviews over the years with her that summer, I wrote, “With a voice as lovely as springtime’s freshest daisy, Ruth Moody plans to pursue a solo career while simultaneously helping to keep the rising trio known simply as the Jennys in full bloom.” Then, that December, The Garden topped my list of favorite albums of the year submitted for No Depression’s group of featured bloggers. Two months later, my wife Carmen and I saw our first Jennys show on Valentine’s Eve 2011. Our hearts filled in Loveland, Colorado, of all places.

Ruth Moody
Photo: Michael Bialas

After listening to Wanderer multiple times, history might repeat if there’s another list in 2024. It could be too early for Moody to draw parallels with the two previous full-length solo albums (including 2013’s These Wilder Things, which benefited from a Mark Knopfler appearance on “Pockets”). In our interview about the album, she said, “The record does go into a slightly kind of wilder territory,” compared to her official solo debut. Another highlight was a gentler cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”, which she decided to “folkify”. 

Though Ruth Moody didn’t say specifically in this latest interview how Wanderer compares to the first two solo works, she did ruminate on her progression over the past decade. “I have gone through a lot of growth and change in the last ten years, and I think some of that life experience informed my approach to recording and performing,” Moody states. “I really wanted to let go of some of the perfectionistic expectations of myself that I’ve always carried around — messages I internalized from my childhood and simply from being a woman in this world. 

“I wanted to connect to the magic of the moment as much as possible, to be a little more free, a little less attached to the outcome. They are very personal, emotional songs. My goal was to be as free and honest with my singing as I could be. We recorded everything live, and thankfully, I was so comfortable with the band that I could really dig into the emotional landscape of the songs in the way I needed to.” 

With that, it’s impossible to dodge the opening question any longer. Since it’s unfair to declare a winner and runner-up in this discourse that isn’t even a competition, let’s just say — as I’ve previously hinted — The Wailin’ Jennys are the best roots trio of their time. While still like a fanboy who has adored rowdy rockers since the days of 45s and 8-tracks, I became a more discerning listener who found soaring songbirds like Sarah McLachlan, Aimee Mann, and Allison Moorer more to my liking. 

These days, though, if I have to play favorites, only one all-Americana woman ranks first — and foremost — on my playlist. 

Guess who? 

Ruth’s Hard Truths

How different is life after becoming the mother of a growing boy compared to those carefree single days?

It couldn’t be more different. Practically speaking, it has affected my relationship with time. In the old days, I used to be able to work as long as I needed to, or if I were in a creative zone, I would focus entirely on writing for a while until I felt like coming up for air. When you’re a parent, you get these short windows of time, so you have to be efficient with them, and it’s not always easy to turn on the creative tap if you know you only have an hour or two. I still haven’t got my head around that. So that can be challenging. Emotionally speaking, being responsible for another human thing is hard! The stakes are high, and you feel more vulnerable when you have someone to worry about on that level, someone who is relying on you in such crucial ways. You want to be the best you can be for them, and you constantly have to accept that you aren’t perfect. So it’s very humbling, and of course, when you start to feel like you’re getting the hang of things, everything changes.  

How is your seven-year-old son doing, and what does he think about Momma’s music? What specific songs of yours does he request? What musical gifts has he inherited from you? 

He is very musical. He loves to sing and especially loves to play guitar. He has taught himself how to play, and he plays in a very unique way, with the guitar flat like a dobro. He won’t take instruction from anyone, least of all me! He has always been very stubborn and marched to the beat of his own drum (strum?). Recently, he learned how to play one of the songs from Wanderer. It’s his favourite — it’s called “Already Free”. That was so cool until he started telling me I was playing it wrong. 

How does your relationship with him affect the songs you write?

Well, as I mentioned, being a parent has definitely brought a level of vulnerability to my life that I didn’t have before, and I was a pretty sensitive person to begin with. So it’s hard to say whether it’s this or the fact that the last few years and the pandemic were so hard, but I definitely have a different level of appreciation for how precious every moment is. I think that’s coming through in my creative practice. At the same time, I think being a parent teaches you not to take yourself too seriously. You’re going to be called out on that pretty quickly. So, I think maybe I’ve gotten a little more playful and experimental in my creativity. It’s inspiring to see Woodson make up songs or paint. He’s so free — he’s completely uninhibited. I’m trying to be a little more like that in general!

Ruth Moody Band Tour (full band)* 

May 21 Annapolis, MD  – Ram’s Head
May 22 Philadelphia, PA – World Cafe Live
May 23 Alexandria, VA – The Birchmere
May 25 New York, NY – Joe’s Pub
May 26 State College, PA – State Theater
May 28 Evanston, IL – SPACE
May 29 Milwaukee, WI – Vivarium
May 30 Cincinnati, OH – Ludlow Garage
*More dates to be announced soon