After hearing ‘Middle of Nowhere’, the first single from Ruby Boots’s new album, Solitude, I was very much looking forward to hearing the other songs – Boots’s voice has a siren’s-call thing going on and I was in hook, line and sinker from the first notes.
So expectations were high and it’s always lovely when they aren’t disappointed, as has been the case here. Boots – a.k.a. Bex Chilcott – sings with passion and aplomb, and these ten tracks make up a body of work which suggests that Chilcott takes her songwriting seriously.
There is emotion in these songs but it’s not raw so much as naked. In this respect Chilcott is reminiscent of Janis Joplin – not in her singing style, which isn’t as polarising, shall we say, as Joplin’s. What’s reminiscent of Joplin is Chilcott’s heart and her lack of self-consciousness in singing about loneliness, when the loneliness isn’t in the lyrics so much as they way they’re sung. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t fun on this album – ‘Baby Pull Over’ is one instance of it. And it’s also not to say that Chilcott is singing about her own loneliness. She’s just willing to stand before the listener and express it, and that takes courage.
These songs cry out for a cold afternoon by a fire and nowhere else to be, so you can play the album in full over and over (as I’ve done). Yet they’re also songs which sound as if they’re being sung from a fencepost across a vast expanse of land and sky. In other words: they’re urban and rural all at the same time, and that’s probably been achieved because Chilcott has respected the roots of the genre she’s in while finding a way to translate that genre to a contemporary audience. It’s one of the challenges – and gifts – of contemporary Australian country artists who fit the ‘alt country’ tag: their respect for country music is deep yet they seem to realise that it does need some adapting to audiences who would say they don’t care about country music if asked a direct question. Chilcott cares about country music and she cares about her audience. It’s a great combination.
Solitude (Lost Highway Australia) is out now.