"I was trying to find a place where I felt my voice belonged," recalls Ruth Cameron, "and this is it!"
With her new Verve release Roadhouse, Ruth Cameron offers a stunning followup to her 1999 First Songs EP. And while First Songs was the singer's calling card, a collection of songs she loved, Roadhouse goes further. It's an intimate setting for a strong, yet sympathetic woman telling stories about life and especially, love.
"I'm drawn to the image of a singer in a down-to-earth, friendly place," says Cameron. "Roadhouses especially the classier ones were a notch above the usual venues reserved for jazz singers. This isn't a glamorous performer in front of a big band somewhere, belting it out. This woman is a survivor; she's lived and loved a lot she's still a work in progress! Yes, her heart has been broken, and she's had some regrets, but she appreciates her past, and she still has her sense of humor. And although she's independent, she hasn't locked her heart away."
It's no surprise that Ruth Cameron is so passionate about singing "in character." Her early work was in theatre, both in North America and in Europe. Acting taught her many of the elements of storytelling, which she now brings to her music.
"I've never wanted to hold an audience at arm's length, whether I was acting or singing," says Cameron emphatically. "I always try to make the work immediate, and intimate. And like acting, singing can be done superficially, or with great depth. It's so important to explore the nuances of a work."
After Cameron married bassist Charlie Haden, she took a break from theater. She managed Haden, and was instrumental in helping him to form his very successful group Quartet West. The world of music and musicians was a comfortable fit for her and co-producing various recordings with her husband provided further motivation for her own solo projects.
"I come from a musical family. Music was always part of my life, and I've always known that someday I would sing. Charlie has been so very supportive about my music; he's been great at keeping me on track, pushing me to turn 'someday' into 'now.' His approach and dedication to his music is a constant inspiration to me."
Cameron worked devotedly with two mentors: vocal coach Sue Raney and the late vocalist Jeri Southern. "Sue is just a wonderful singer, and I knew I had to get that technique in place so I could go beyond it, and not rely on it too much. Sue was great for that!"
Cameron met Southern thanks to Haden, who was one of the vocalist's long-time friends. At first she was in awe of the legendary singer, "but we ended up having a marvelous friendship," recalls Cameron. "We'd get together and talk for hours about music, of course, but also about men, Jung, mathematics everything! Jeri had such emotional honesty. I learned so much from her about how to approach a song. She taught me that truth in art transcends form: you can bring your strengths in one discipline, like acting, to another, like music. It was because of Jeri that I started to find my voice."
After the favorable critical reaction to her first release, Cameron set about planning her second effort. The title, Roadhouse, conjures up the setting: a relaxed get away destination for the evening, where the worldly, warm-hearted singer is queen.
"I told our engineer and co-producer Jay Newland that I wanted to sound as though I were singing right into the listener's ear. It had to be that close, that intimate! I think he did a great job."
The choice of songs for Roadhouse is something of which Cameron is justifiably proud.
"A lot of these pieces are tunes that I used to hear my mother play on the piano when I was growing up, so they're bound up in those childhood memories that can be so important. But I also wanted them to be songs that a roadhouse singer could sing with conviction. In fact, my decision to sing 'Again' came from recalling the film Roadhouse, which starred the wonderful Ida Lupino. 'My Old Flame' is like that: it's about that great affair you just can't forget. In fact, it was the first song I chose for this record! And 'Sunday Kind of Love' tells a story too-this woman wants to be taken seriously in love, not just treated like a good-time girl."
From "Something Cool," with its fragile, Blanche Dubois-like imagery, to "Detour Ahead," and its automotive metaphors about the dangers of love, these songs are the perfect vehicles for Cameron's Roadhouse persona. Some of the tunes are well known, a fact that scares some singers off. But Cameron went ahead with them, rising to the challenge of finding new depths in familiar material.
"When I think of 'One For My Baby' of course I think about Sinatra; everybody does! But Charlie urged me to go ahead, and I think I bring my own edge to it. You have to do some classics; after all, actors still do Hamlet! And on 'Body and Soul,' I found a whole new inspiration in doing the verse it just captures the story for me. In choosing the tunes for this record, I went with my heart."
Cameron exults in her choice of musicians, built around the stellar Quartet West rhythm section of Alan Broadbent (piano), Haden, and Larance Marable (drums). Guest pianists Brad Mehldau, Mike Melvoin, and Chris Dawson each get outings, Ralph Moore and Gary Foster lend an empathetic saxophone obbligato, and violinist Federico Britos Ruiz brings a sweetly elegant touch to three of the songs.
So settle back at the Roadhouse bar, order your favorite taste, and listen . Ruth Cameron has stories to tell!
Roadhouse [314 xxx xxx-2] available on CD October 3, 2000.
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