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Album Review: Richard Ruane & Beth Duquette, 'Notch Road'
Chris Farnsworth , Vermont Seven Days July 18th
Richard Ruane & Beth Duquette, Notch Road
"When you look at me, do you see a future or a chain?"
That is no simple question to ask a lover. You can imagine everything going still as two people suddenly grapple with such a behemoth between them, two hearts trying to find each other through all the bullshit life can bring.
Such is the power of Richard Ruane and Beth Duquette's new record, Notch Road. The love songs are never simple. The anecdotes are far from cliché. And when the album asks questions such as the one quoted above from "Back With Rosemarie," they are the morally complicated yearnings of adulthood, lined with equal parts regret and weathered hope.
Ruane and Duquette first made local waves with trio Bread and Bones, earning accolades for their traditionally based folk music. After the Ripton band's 2011 album Could Have Been a Dream, it trimmed down to a duo. Notch Road marks the couple's debut, but it has all the confidence and mastery a longtime listener might expect. The songwriting is heavy with experience.
"Ellie Brown" is a Vermont-centric paean to heartbreak. From Windham through Rutland counties, town after town is name-checked over a classic folk arrangement. The towns appear in Ruane's car window as he passes by and thinks about a long-lost love. "But only now and then," he clarifies, a mournful note in his voice as he learns to let that old love go.
The album is not all doom and gloom. Ruane and Duquette have a quirky side, too. The jaunty "I Spy" takes a look at love and courting through the lens of Seven Days' infamous section of the same name. Over Ruane's clear, assured acoustic guitar, Duquette waxes philosophic about dating in the 21st century. "You seem pretty safe, and so am I," she sings. "Let me treat you to a coffee and some pie."
The duo takes on a traditional tune in "Harbour of Typee," originally performed by Ewan MacColl, A.L. Lloyd and Peggy Seeger for a 1962 documentary called Whaler Out of New Bedford. A gothic dread hangs over Ruane's arrangement, and his and Duquette's voices create a vivid picture of frozen ropes, freezing harbors and dreams of southern seas.
The original songs, mostly penned by Ruane, more than hold up, but the most impressive thing about this record is its versatility. Both singers have engaging voices, the songs never linger too long, and the writing has true character. For those who have already been listening to the duo, none of that will come as a surprise — though these are arguably the strongest tunes they've written to date.
Art Edelstein wrote a lovely review of it in that appeared in the Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus and the Rutland Herald. You can find the full review by clicking here, but here are some excerpts:
"Continuing their very successful recording career, the two Ripton musicians have produced an album that echoes their previous recordings. It is virtually flawless.” “Ruane’s song, “Ellie Brown,” tells a story about Vermont in the style of a traditional ballad that could have been collected by Helen Hartness Flanders.“ “As with the duo’s previous work, this is music with substance and intelligence covering a variety of themes.“ “Ranging from the light-hearted to the serious, the songs cover making stuffed clams in a factory, the toll addiction takes, lost love, living happily with love, two crows conversing, and imagining an extended personal ad from Vermont’s Seven Days weekly newspaper column “I Spy.” Many of the songs have a strong sense of place with specific references to locations around Vermont and elsewhere.” “With Richard Ruane and Beth Duquette, we are treated to a wonderfully entertaining album."
Ray Padgett, on the County Tracks website named the song Ellie Brown one of the best new songs of May 2018. Here's what he said:
"These are all the best Vermont songs, but this (Ellie Brown) is also the most Vermont song. Ruane packs in hyper-local references from Windham County to Middlebury to Rutland. You needn’t know any of those references to be transfixed by the song though. It sounds like an ancient folk tune, something Bob Dylan might have covered before he picked up a pen, but is in fact an original. An instant classic, beautifully aided by Beth Duquette’s harmonies."
Notch Road was chosen as a CD of the Week on Midnight Special Chicago 98.7 FM!