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February 15-21, 2006

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Remaining Mysteries

Ruminators provide 'Loomings,' not answers

By Karl Byrn


Lately, I've been on a huge Neil Young kick, finally replacing worn-out vinyl with CDs and memorizing every detail of James McDonough's 750-page Young biography Shakey. During this phase, I've also been spending quality time with Loomings, the new disc by Sonoma County folk-rock/Celtic mainstays the Ruminators and the 10th anniversary release from local label Jackalope Records.

The Ruminators have been compared to Richard and Linda Thompson a million times since forming in 1989. I've instead caught myself thinking the novel thought that they might also share something with old Neil. There's a slim but intriguing link—nothing musical at all, and nothing to do with stance or style. But I hear both artists feeling most at home with the moody enigmas that Ruminators bandleader and songwriter Greg Scherer calls "the mysteries that will remain mysteries."

Loomings, the band's third full-length (Scherer also released a 2000 solo disc), builds layers of moody mystery with Young-like acoustic/electric contrasts and combinations. The production is lush and more expansive than their folksier past efforts, with a sound that's based on gorgeous piano but spiked with odd electronic edges. The music is still intimate and stately, but often has the glow of sublime modern rock.

Scherer, like Young, writes with an open eye for the unresolved, offering suggestions rather than specifics, hinting at the transience of otherwise clear emotional spaces. Scherer could be describing Young's ruminative side when he says that writing the material on Loomings found him "thinking more about the richness of the world, and the flip sides of it: the horrific and the beautiful; the kind and the cruel; the thoughtfulness and the thoughtlessness."

I'm guessing that Scherer has never been compared to Young, but I'm also guessing that he'll appreciate the connection. Though the Ruminators have been praised for their Celtic flavors and old-world folk roots, there's a foundation of classic rock to Scherer's musical instincts.

"I believe the ideal is to try and reinvent and surprise yourself and anyone else you've caught the ear of," Scherer says in musing on his '60s inspirations. "That was the given aspiration of any band that wanted to be taken seriously—first, you had to sound different, and second, you didn't want to sound like the last record, because that meant you'd run out of ideas and were on your last leg."

There's no shortage of ideas on Loomings. The reliable musical strengths of Scherer's longtime partners—jazz-trained singer Jennifer Goudeau, pianist Ron Stinnett, bassist and Studio E owner Jeff Martin—also provide the raw material for fresh growth. Extra measures are built into the 6/8 waltz-time structure of "In This Moment," while shifting measures are stretched and compressed on "Everything in Its Place." Several songs have a slow, bluesy grind, yet the cut "Shake These Blues" isn't a blues form at all, but rather a pleasant slice of folk-tronica that sets a table for both drum programming and accordion. One of the most traditional sounding songs, "My Favorite Time," is also one of the most rocking with its insistent innocence.

Scherer relishes this thrill of discovery. His favorite recent music impression is learning that someone in Spain ordered Loomings after sampling it on CDBaby.com. "There was something he heard," Scherer says, that "drew him to it amidst all the thousands of choices out there."

Maybe what the guy in Spain heard is prompted what Jackalope Records owner Doug Jayne to comment, "I wish I were a good enough player to be a Ruminator!" Maybe the new edges of Scherer's band are ongoing links to the ideals and traditions of folk-rock, world music and classic rock. The most compelling parts of Loomings, after all, are still its mysteries.


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