Review of Shoulder to the Wheel Album by Ruarri Joseph

Based in Newquay, folk-singer Ruarri Joseph really is an enigma. Moving from Atlantic Records to a smaller company for 'creative' issues, Ruarri now releases his third LP after already having toured the UK and even played at Glastonbury Festival. At face value, Ruarri really is a mixture. Looking like James Morrison, sounding like Newton Faulkner and obviously influenced by Cat Stevens and Bob Dylan, Ruarri Joseph is able to combine a 60s style acoustic with modern lyricals. But like his influences, will this album stand the test of time?

Ruarri Joseph Shoulder to the Wheel Album

Nervous Grin, the opening track is a beautiful , haunting and quiet start; essentially a precursor of what one should expect for the rest of the LP. Ironically, as the name suggests, Ruarri starts off his LP nervously and quietly, edging his way into the psyche. Sounding like an Editors track, the Irish influences here are able to alter the conventional country-folk sound. Ruarri similarly follows these Irish traditions in Raining Stone, where the use of strings juxtaposed with the guitar is a brilliant touch. In turn, Ruarri establishes a country theme for the rest of his album. In A Fool For Us All, we experience a tranquil expedition into country-folk with brilliant use of the harmonica to create a very traditional sound.

By far the best track off the album, An Orchard for an Apple, is a melodic breeze (Sufjan Stevens-esque) with a very powerful maturity in its lyrics. Generally, Ruarri's lyrics are very potent. Putting aside the wince of some of his rhymes (In As Always, he goes as far to rhyme 'lament' with 'cement'), there is a real ripeness and experience in his lyrics; probably due to the fact that he has a family and that his eldest son recently had to remove a brain tumour. Thus, life experience is evident in his poetic rhymes. Similarly, Ruarri is also able to show off his guitar skills in Severed Dreams, a quite unusual and experimental track that is simply divine, and Caveman, an instrumental that boasts of his melodic harmonies.

The album does have major failures however. Starting off with some great tracks, the album soon degenerates into monotony as it goes on. Songs like Rich Folks Hoax and For the Love of Grace reek of filler and they are nothing groundbreaking. After a while, the songs start to merge and even after a few listens, I could not, from the top of my head, distinct specific songs.

Shoulder to the Wheel ends like how it begins; with a quiet sound. But there is an optimistic message of hope and reassurance in The Faithless Few. Ruarri claims 'theres no reason to be beaten through by the faithless few'. However, we should ask ourselves, are we one of those faithless few that have lost hope in him? It's important to reinforce that he shouldn't be criticised too harshly. Ruarri has been able to produce a good album that weeps its way into emotion and feeling. But the LP is simply just that; good, not anything unique or innovative, which comes across quite a shame really. It is obvious that Ruarri has a lot to give, both musically and lyrically, but only time can tell whether he has the longevity to pass his Cornish shores and develop his music worldwide.


Nima Baniamer

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