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Robert Wyatt - Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard CD (album) cover


Robert Wyatt


Canterbury Scene

3.48 | 113 ratings

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4 stars Robert Wyatt's follow up to the brilliant Rock Bottom is a slightly uneven affair. Never the world's most prolific songwriter, Wyatt would probably have benefited from more time between albums. Despite its flaws, the man himself actually prefers it to Rock Bottom (or so he said in an interview) and it's still a strong entry in a singularly impressive back catalogue.

Where Rock Bottom maintained its dreamlike atmosphere from start to finish, Ruth is Starnger than Richard is very much an album of two halves. Side 1 (tracks 1 -5) is a sequence that is up to the standard of his best work. The Muddy Mouse interludes recall the absurdist humour of early Soft Machine tracks like Pataphysical Introduction or A Concise British Alphabet. These interludes punctuate three of his best pieces. Solar`Flares marries the post-Third Soft Machine style of fusion with the more abstract approach of Matching Mole. Gary Windo doubles the bass line on bass clarinet and Wyatt doubles the melody line with his voice. 5 Black Notes and 1 White Note is Offenbach with a Canterbury twist and shows how classical music can be reinterpreted with style and wit rather than pomp and bombast. Finally, Muddy Mouse/Muddy Mouth ends the sequence with Wyatt's voice and a suitably avant garde piano accompinament courtesy of Henry Cow's Fred Frith. The combination of Frith's austere modernism and Wyatt's direct and emotional singing is inspired, and calls to mind parts of End of an Ear or Instant Pussy during the lengthy scat singing passage.

The second half of the album has some of the most overtly jazzy music released under Wyatt's own name. Soup Song is a pleasant bit of Canterbury nonsense that would sit well on a Hatfield and the North album but which sounds a bit thin in this context. Sonia is an off kilter instrumental written by African jazz trumpeter Mongezi Feza which features another superb contribution from Gary Windo. Team Spirirt is the best track on this second half, co-written with Bill McCormick and Phil Manzenara and operating in that unclassifiable jazz/rock/dada space explored by the likes of Quiet Sun and Matching Mole. The proceedings a brought to a close with Charlie Haden's mournful instrumental Song for Che. Good stuff, but again sounding a little out of context.

Rock Bottom was always going to be a tough act to follow, and in a sense it's unfair to compare it with Ruth is Stranger than Richard. This is a good album in its own right, uneven but never sub standard and containing some of Wyatt's best performances. Well worth adding to your collection.

Syzygy | 4/5 |


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