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

RUTH IS STRANGER THAN RICHARD

Robert Wyatt

Canterbury Scene


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Sean Trane
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Prog Folk
3 stars 3.5 stars really!!!

How in the world could've Wyatt topped the fabulous Rock Bottom, the album that personify individual intimacy, complete lunacy and at the same time come out as a cure for his sanity?? Would his next album suffer from aridity, after having been drenched in tears, probably exhausting its reserve of emotions? Obviously he couldn't and probably didn't try, opting for a very different direction in the manner of a pure assemblage of individual songs, but wouldn't keep it to that: he divided the album into two halves, the first side containing different-sounding tracks not linked to each other; while the second half is a very weird chain of songs linked with his Muddy Mouse pieces. For some reason, unknown to me, the Cd reissue inverted the side sequence, which throws a bit off my theory that the Ruth side (first in the album title and on the vinyl) was indeed stranger than the Richard side, second in the album title and on the vinyl. I will review the Cd order, since I never owned the vinyl.

Comparably to his previous two solo albums, Robert doesn't write all or most of the songs, as here, there are a bunch coming from the other musicians involved, a stellar cast of Windo, Frith, Eno, Feza, Manzanera, Hopper, Sinclair, Greaves, McCormick and Nisar Ahmad Khan. Self-produced (except one song by Nick Mason), this album sports an extremely strange animal masks artwork that made its sleeve remarked on the record store walls. The opening Soup Song (Hopper/Wyatt written) is a prog blues extravaganza with Windo going nuts on the sax, but even though it's fun, it's nowhere near what we'd expect from Wyatt. The same can be said of the Feza-penned instrumental jazzy reggae Sonia, with its fun horn section, fun but missing the point. Both tracks have the usual Canterbury humour (Sonia could even compare with Caravan's Clear Blue Sky -, in 79) and the gloomy Charlie Haden cover For Che instrumental (let us not forget that Robert is a confirmed communist) is again not bad in itself, but not really what you'd expect from Wyatt. The only track offering a bit of prog interest is Team Spirit (a Manzanera/McCormick composition), a difficult to classify proggy jazz with tons of effects on the horns of Windo and Feza. With this track, we return to RB spirit and even threw a hint of TEOAE, this could've been on a Mole or Hatfield album. Team spirit is easily the opening Richard side's best track, and the only barely strange one.

The Ruth flipside is where we see how schizophrenic this album is (definitely holding a more RIO stance, probably due to Frith's presence) with the Muddy Mouse pieces, which are uneasy Frith/Wyatt composition, where Robert's voice is unsettlingly bare and IMHO, purposely badly recorded. The same remark goes for the album closer Muddy mouth, retaining the same formula than the Mouse pieces, but Wyatt's voices being tortured throughout a series of effects, filters and wah-wah pedals.

Solar Flares being an instant classic with fans, with a typical minimalist keyboard that was already present in TEOAE Carla, Marsha And Caroline and now fast becoming a Wyatt signature. The tension travelling throughout this track is pure bliss, as the bass/clarinet beat contrast so well with the organ/voice melody, leaving the piano, percussions and a crazy sax all the room to cast a hypnotic spell on us. With this track in mind, it is now easy to see just how much Picchio Dal Pozzo's third album, Abbiamo, evolved the way it did. Also clearly in the line of fire is News From Babel's Letters album, even if Frith is not there. 5 Black Notes And 1 White Note is the third (and last) highlight on the album, an Offenbach theme with some melancholic sax duo (Windo and Feza I suppose switching from his usual trumpet) over an almost-annoying Eno synth hi-freq tone. The track is slowly dying with Eno sustaining the suspense just long enough to overstay its welcome. Excellent.

RISTR is indeed a strange "thing" which probably didn't receive the same kind of welcome than its predecessor, driving Wyatt into a semi-retirement for the rest of the decade, if you'll except an invisible single in 78. His two Virgin albums are very different, but if you include his debut, you've got one of prog's most eclectic individuals, one that never fails to mix humor, politics and depressive moods in his album, no matter where they lay musically-speaking. However, this album will have the merit of having fans accepting the wider scope of pure songs, even though the majority of the ones here aren't from Wyatt himself.

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Send comments to Sean Trane (BETA) | Report this review (#29842)
Posted Monday, April 19, 2004 | Review Permalink
Trotsky
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Honorary Collaborator
4 stars For a long time, this was the only Robert Wyatt album I've ever heard, and while I now feel that the emotionally draining Rock Bottom (1974) is his best solo effort (of the ones I've heard of course), I still really enjoy this stew of jazz and blues flavoured with politics and humour.

The former leader of both Soft Machine and Matching Mole is accompanied by a stellar team with some songs co-written by the Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera, Soft Machine's Hugh Hopper and Henry Cow's Fred Frith, while Pink Floyd's Nick Mason produces one of the tracks and Brian Eno also guesting. The first two tracks are fun but not really what one expects from a prog artist. Soup Song is a nice progressive blues tune while Sonia is a jazz-inflected reggae instrumental originally written by Mongezi Feza, who plays trumpet on this album. A real highlight then follows in the brilliant Team Spirit, which is jazzy prog guaranteed to warm the cockles. It's followed by a cover of Charlie Haden' Song For Che which is a jazzy mournful march. The three segments of Muddy Mouse are a typical Soft Machine meets Henry Cow experience marrying Wyatt's high pitched vocals with Frith's complicated modern classical sensibilities. These songs frame three of the best pieces on the album. Solar Flares is a driving jazz-rock number, 5 Black Notes and 1 White Note is a melancholy, haunting affair that sees Wyatt expanding on classical composer Jacques Offenbach's Baccarole and Muddy Mouth is an intriguing piece ... although I'm not really a fan of Wyatt's attempt to give his vocals a wah-wah effect.

Having now heard Rock Bottom, I have little doubt that the "lightness" of this album (which is still far from easy listening) is a reaction to the soul-searching he did on his previous album. I repeat ... I really enjoyed it. (BTW, you'll note that "the old sides A & B" have been flipped on my version of this album, which may well have had an effect on how I view this album). ... 71% on the MPV scale

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Send comments to Trotsky (BETA) | Report this review (#29844)
Posted Tuesday, May 03, 2005 | Review Permalink
Syzygy
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Honorary Collaborator
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.

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Send comments to Syzygy (BETA) | Report this review (#41301)
Posted Tuesday, August 02, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars After first listening, this album was somewhat of a disappointment from the marvelous Rock Bottom. Several spins later, this album has really grown on me, but not quite to the level of the previous album. Once again, we have an all-star lineup (but I do prefer the lineup of RB), with many superb musicinas most notably Fred Frith and Brian Eno.

The three Muddy Mouses are examples of Canterbury-styled humor, and pretty good actually. Wyatt's vocals are ace as usual, and you have to love the piano which is played by Fred Frith. After the first Muddy Mouse, we get into Solar Flares, the first *real* song. It's a nice jazzy song very similar to Wyatt's spin off band of Soft Machine, Matching Mole. Another Muddy Mouse interlude and we get to 5 Black Notes and 1 White Noise. This song is a cover of an Offenbach song (I've never heard it though), and a fine tune. It's pretty depressing... instrumental, with great winds playing. Next is Muddy Mouse, which in turn leads to Muddy Mouth. Muddy Mouth is pretty much an expansion of Muddy Mouse, with the strange vocal style of Robert Wyatt you either love or hate (and I love, of course).

Side Ruth (side two) really is stranger than the first side (Side Richard) and also more jazzy. First is Soup Song, which reminds me of a blues version of Sea Song from Rock Bottom. Sonia is another jazzy song, with even some Reggae bits thrown in. It's a very catchy song, and I can't help but to tap my foot while listening. Team Spirit is the next song, and also the longest (8 and half minutes) and probably my favorite song of Side Ruth. This song is very jazzy, reminding me of a mix of two Soft Machine albums, Bundles and Softs, but with vocals of course. Song for Che concludes Ruth is Stranger than Richard. It's a good ambient jazz-type song, a fine way to end the album and leave the listener wanting for more.

Overall, this is very different from Rock Bottom. It's much lighter, more carefree, and an album that is fun to listen to. I would consider this to be an "excellent addition to any prog music collection", and essential for fans of Robert Wyatt.

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Send comments to Mikerinos (BETA) | Report this review (#78060)
Posted Saturday, May 13, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard is the third solo album by Robert Wyatt.

The follow-up to Rock Bottom, recorded either during or shortly after the sessions for that album, Ruth... is actually a collection of material Wyatt had written earlier in his career. Like its predecessor, the album was produced by Nick Mason of Pink Floyd and once again features a host of Wyatt's Canterbury scene musical colleagues, including Fred Frith.

The album contains several pieces which recall the complexity and despair of Rock Bottom, but much of the record echoes the relaxed, almost jokey feel of earlier Wyatt efforts such as The End of an Ear or his work with Matching Mole. This becomes evident from the choice of title (a pun on "truth is stranger than fiction") onwards; the two sides of the original LP release were not labelled "Side A" and "Side B", but rather "Side Ruth" and "Side Richard", the implication being that Side B was less outlandish than Side A. True to his word, Wyatt punctuated the three "serious" pieces on Side A/Ruth - the beautiful ballad "Solar Flares", "5 Black Notes And 1 White Note" (a funereal instrumental, supposedly a cover of Jacques Offenbach's Bacarolle, which degenerates into a series of noises somewhere between free jazz and electronic noise) and the piano-led Rock Bottom-esque Fred Frith collaboration "Muddy Mouth" - with a series of brief, nonsensical interludes featuring only sparse piano accompaniment and some very strange high-pitched yelping vocals under the collective title "Muddy Mouse".

The songs on Side B/Richard all have more traditional structures; the rollicking "Soup Song", written several years earlier, has the air of a pub singalong. The remaining songs are all covers or collaborations; the lengthy Mongezi Feza trumpet piece "Sonia", featuring a guest appearance by Feza himself (as do a number of other songs on the album) in the last year of his life, "Team Spirit" - written with Phil Manzanera, who would include the same song on his album Diamond Head under the title "Frontera" - and a straight cover of "Song for Che" by Charlie Haden round off the album.

For me is also essential just like Rock Bottom.

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Send comments to olga (BETA) | Report this review (#126254)
Posted Monday, June 18, 2007 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars 3.5 stars. Wyatt assembled an all-star cast for this one including John Greaves on bass for one track. Bill MacCormick(MATCHING MOLE, QUIET SUN) would play bass on the other tracks. Drums by Laurie Allan (GONG), guitar and synths by Brian Eno, piano by Fred Frith(HENRY COW), sax and clarinet by Gary Windo (MATCHING MOLE), trumpet by Mongezi Feza(HENRY COW) and sax by Nisar Ahmad Khan round out the lineup. Wyatt would play keys, piano, drums and of course vocals. Wyatt would produce all the songs except Sonia which was produced by Nick Mason(PINK FLOYD). Ok, enough name dropping. For me this doesn't measure up to his first two solo albums, although to his credit they are all very different from one another, so it's more a matter of taste I believe than that one is better than the other.There are two songs on here I love very much "Solar Flares" and "Team Spirit". The rest is hit and miss for me.

"Muddy Mouse(a)" and "Muddy Mouse(b)" are both short piano / vocal tracks written by Wyatt and Frith. "Solar Flares" features light drums, keys, bass and clarinet. Vocal melodies join in on this catchy but restrained number. "Black Notes And 1 White Note" features dual sax melodies that are almost dissonant as other instruments play in the background including Eno on synths and guitar. Good tune. "Muddy Mouse (c)" which in turn leads to "Muddy Mouth" is another Wyatt / Frith composition. It opens with Wyatt's vocals being overlapped(different lyrics though) haha. Then his famous vocal melodies with piano arrive a minute in.

"Soup Song" is a silly song about soup.The lyrics convey the soup's thoughts. Wyatt and Hopper wrote this one. Lots of piano and sax. "Sonia" was a Feza composition, he also plays trumpet on this one. Greaves on bass. Clarinet and sax are also featured. Almost a reggae feel to it. "Team Spirit" is my favourite. A jazzy little number with great vocals from Wyatt. It does sound like a ray gun(by Eno) before and during a sax solo 3 minutes in. It(sax) then gets a little crazy 4 1/2 minutes in. "Song For Che" opens quietly but does get louder after a minute with drums and sax joining in.

Some beautiful passages on this one that i'm sure Wyatt fans are all familiar with. Sad to say that Windo and Feza are no longer with us, but they both brought a lot to the table on this recording for us to enjoy.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#161129)
Posted Thursday, February 07, 2008 | Review Permalink
fuxi
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars A disappointing release from Robert Wyatt - how was he ever going to match the glorious ROCK BOTTOM? The tunes featuring wind instruments are O.K., but the whole sorry 'Muddy Mouse / Muddy Mouth' saga, four separate pieces featuring nothing but vocals and piano (to my relief totalling no more than eight minutes), well, they're are immensely irritating. Their melodies have always got on my nerves, their lyrics are incomprehensible, they just seem a waste of natural resources!

Thank 'eaven for so-called SIDE RUTH. 'Soup Song' is delightful, in the first place because of those extraordinary lyrics: 'There's a mushroom on my eyelid, / there's a carrot down my back, / I can see in the distance a vast quantity of beans...' In fact, all pieces featuring clarinettist /saxophonist Gary Windo (i.e. the larger part of this album) are worth hearing. The jolly singalong 'Team Spirit' was written from the perspective of a football out on the pitch, and 'Song for Che' is a beautifully elegiac hymn to one of Wyatt's personal heroes.

I can't make up my mind if the relative pleasures of SIDE RUTH (as well as the pleasantly floating 'Solar Flares' and the Offenbach-inspired 'Five Black Notes and One White Note') really make up for the album's irritations. If you're a Wyatt nut, you've got to own this. If not, start somewhere else.

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Send comments to fuxi (BETA) | Report this review (#171963)
Posted Thursday, May 22, 2008 | Review Permalink
UMUR
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Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Ruth is Stranger Than Richard is the third full-length studio album by British experimental rock artist Robert Wyatt. Having been paralyzed from the waist down due to a fall from a fourth floor window Robert Wyatt partially wrote and arranged ( he had written a great portion of the album before the accident) the deeply emotional and beautifully dark second solo album Rock Bottom (1974) during his recovery from the accident. Rock Bottom is a great achivement and a personal favorite album of mine and therefore the follow up album Ruth is Stranger Than Richard had all opportunities of possible failure. As it turns out Ruth is Stranger Than Richard doesnt reach the heights of Rock Bottom, but its a very good album.

The album is divided in two parts. Side one of the original LP is called side Richard and side two of the original LP is called side Ruth. I much prefer side one as the atmosphere is darkest in the songs on this part of the album. The music is not easy to describe but experimental rock with jazzy elements ( lots of brass) might give you a clue. Robert Wyatts distinct and personal vocal style is great IMO but his use of his voice is probably an aquired taste.

The musicianship is excellent. In addition to Robert Wyatts considerable talents he has guests like Brian Eno, Fred Frith and John Greaves performing on the album.

The production is great. It suits the music well.

Ruth is Stranger Than Richard is a good album by Robert Wyatt and after Ive come to the realization that Rock Bottom is an impossible album to follow up with something equally as brilliant, Ive really come to enjoy Ruth is Stranger Than Richard a lot more. i still think the first part of the album is better than the second part though and it does drag my rating down to 3 stars. There are parts of the album that deserves 4 stars though.

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Send comments to UMUR (BETA) | Report this review (#221552)
Posted Wednesday, June 17, 2009 | Review Permalink
Rune2000
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Prog Metal Team
3 stars After really enjoying the previous album I just couldn't believe that Robert Wyatt wouldn't be able to release a few more performances like the one on Rock Bottom. I began my journey by exploring the follow-up album Ruth is Stranger Than Richard that was released only a year later.

Even though this album features the same Robert Wyatt vocals and keyboard arrangements Ruth is Stranger Than Richard is far from the continuation of Rock Bottom-style that I expected it to be. It's not so much the compositions but instead the overall tone that has shifted from the moody and atmospheric to cheerful and relaxed. Simply put, the album lacks the intensity of his previous effort and with it the compositions fall like a house of cards.

It doesn't really help that most of the material consists of adaptations and arrangements of other people's music with Wyatt concentrating mainly on the lyrics, just like he did on Matching Mole's Little Red Record. This definitely makes it hard to label this release as a proper Robert Wyatt solo album especially when the second part of the record loses any sense of direction with the very dull and traditionally sounding Soup Song. On top of that we also get an unnecessarily cheerful track called Sonia that falls completely out of context with the rest of the material.

If I had to highlight a better performance then it would be the Muddy Mouse trilogy which, once again, doesn't reach the intensity of Rock Bottom but instead keeps thing afloat in comparison to the rest of the material.

**** star songs: Muddy Mouse I (0:51) Solar Flares (5:38) Muddy Mouse II (0:52) 5 Black Notes And 1 White Note (5:02) Muddy Mouse III (6:17) Team Spirit (8:35) Song For Ch (3:42)

*** star songs: Soup Song (5:05) Sonia (4:20)

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Send comments to Rune2000 (BETA) | Report this review (#283614)
Posted Wednesday, May 26, 2010 | Review Permalink
snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Third Wyatt's solo album was released next year after his excellent intimate "Rock Bottom". Not strange, it wasn't easy to follow such release by something of the same level. And "Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard" didn't.

This album in some sense is a compilation of different previously unreleased songs and ideas (some comes from Wyatt's before Soft Machine period,others are reworked songs of other authors,as Phil Manzanera,etc).Original vinyl album had Side Ruth (instead of A) and Side Richard (side B),what is missed on CD re-releases. Sound of all album is very relaxed, melancholic and in fact even this release is not on the level of previous one,it cemented Wyatt's reputation as unique song and atmosphere singer. Some well-known musicians participated on recording (Fred Frith and Brian Eno between others).

Comparing with Rock Bottom, this album is obviously more jazz and jazz-vocals oriented.Gary Windo's sax soloing in few places is really great, it's pity all music is a bit too minimalistic. "Side Richard" is more serious and contains some moments of free-jazz and Eno-added avant sounds.Full of intelligent nuances and fragile atmosphere, this work lacks only some brighter compositions and whole better structure to become another masterpiece. "Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard" is last Wyatt's solo studio album in ten years to come. For some upcoming time he will spent more time on his political interests, will become British Communist Party member and will release some radical leftist singles.

My rating is 3,5.

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Send comments to snobb (BETA) | Report this review (#411034)
Posted Friday, March 04, 2011 | Review Permalink
Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover & JazzRock/Fusion Teams
3 stars I must admit that sometimes I just don't "get" Robert Wyatt. At those times I find his falsetto vocals irritating, and his songs far too simplistic for my tastes. And sometimes his dry British humor (or is that "humour"?) doesn't strike me as very clever. But then again, if I'm in the right mood, those same songs can sound brilliant. This is one of those albums that has that affect on me.

Even at the best of times, Soup Song, a silly piece about food, doesn't grab me. But the simple songs, like Sonja can keep my interest if I'm feeling mellow enough. Where this album does keep my attention is in the jazzier songs. Team Spirit is one of those, with a fine Canterbury jazz rock style. 5 Black Notes and 1 White Note is also different enough to keep my attention.

It's a nice albun, but not great.

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Send comments to Evolver (BETA) | Report this review (#593907)
Posted Wednesday, December 21, 2011 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard feels like a summation of Wyatt's career to this point - the free jazz of The End of An Ear and the sonic experiments of Rock Bottom are both present, though often they are simply lurking at the back of more conventional songs. Side Ruth consists of more song-oriented material whilst Side Richard consists of the bizarre Muddy Mouth suite, which feels a bit like a rejected (but still good) number from Rock Bottom. It doesn't stand up to its predecessor, but Rock Bottom is an incredibly difficult act to follow, and Soup Song is so silly it can't help but raise a smile. (Indeed, I'd say in Soup Song we see a first draft of the sort of sound which would come to characterise Shleep).

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Send comments to Warthur (BETA) | Report this review (#1039722)
Posted Thursday, September 19, 2013 | Review Permalink

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