Perhaps it was appropriate that Ruth Theodore’s return to Birmingham was held in a library and all the connotations of where different art forms can take you. So among the fact, fiction, sonnets and surrealism, a series of thought provoking songs were sewn in an inimitable style and soundly planted. There is a mind stretching escapism to her music. This can have as much effect of freeing your own mind of everyday clutter as to truly getting inside the cognitive element of Ruth.
Hailing from London, and the architect of half a dozen albums, Ruth is currently heading out on tour in support of her latest record CACTACUS. This album saw the light of day in 2016 with the tour being aligned to the release of the single ‘Kissing in Traffic’. Like so much of the material from the new record, this track appeared in Ruth’s second set where she added the keyboard as her alternative instrument of choice to the trusty guitar.
The assertion that the show’s impromptu set list was going to evolve in some sort of chronological sequence was a rare act of structuralism in an artist appearing enamoured by the freedom of randomness. Throughout the show, we were taken on trips to personify the planet of Pluto, a brief glimpse of life’s mainstream normality in Edinburgh and an exploration of gentrification. Maybe Birmingham in general and Smethwick in particular have not been subject to this form of inhabitant displacement to the extent of many parts of London, but we got the drift.
While bending your imagination can pay dividends in getting the most out of Ruth Theodore, the exemplary playing and often melodic sonic backdrop will fill any blurred moments of concentration lapse. This was not your usual fare for a community based arts project, but full credit to the organisers’ creative experimentalist approach to spice up the musical menu. There was sufficient merit on display to hook into the ideals of an artist purveying an impression of alternative individualism and the freedom that it entails.
Ruth was appearing solo for this show in the art deco surroundings of Smethwick’s Thimblemill Library, but she indicated that a full band is often in tow as advertised for a Milton Keynes show in mid-April. While this would alter the wider sphere of the evening soundtrack, the core of Ruth’s unique style would surely be intact.