Rich Ruth
Water Still Flows

(Third Man)


Free range roaring spiritual jazz and blissed-out cosmic Americana ambient mixed with bone-crushing doom metal heaviness. In theory, the most prominent of the unique musical hybrids powering Rich Ruth’s third solo album should be a lethally mismatched musical pile-up. Keeping with the rest of this remarkable, reinvigorating and often deeply beautiful record, it turns out to be a rare treat, an unexpectedly seamless union of contemplative calm and crushing raw power.

Rich Ruth’s masterful second album, 2022’s I Survived, It’s Over, executed a visionary wide-canvas update of the compelling but fairly conventional electronically inclined ambient float that characterised 2019’s debut Calming Signals. Inspired by the headiest depths of Impulse! label’s 1970s output and various offshoots of the great Kosmische compendium, the comprehensive overhaul and loosening of the Nashville-based guitarist and composer’s MO was reportedly triggered by terrifying events: Ruth was robbed at gunpoint outside his home, and the album’s restlessly roaring yet also soothingly calm sprawl may well have been construed as a creatively fertile processing of the ensuing trauma.

Against this theory, Water Still Flows could be considered as the fiery sound of freedom that follows gradual recovery: there are times when the ever-intensifying roar of the ensemble Ruth has gathered threatens to break free of the confines of the speakers and take a physical form. Yet there are moments of elegant calm here too: the opener ‘Action at a Distance’ for example glides gracefully on some celestial autobahn in search of Michael Rother-ian motorik perfection. At its most potent and resonant, however, this album positively gnashes at the leash, roaring and stretching like the fruits of a free-form jam session, but rooted in form and hooky musical motifs that make this a rarely accessible all-instrumental workout.

Ruth’s primary instrument was prominently in the frame on I Survived, It’s Over as well, but here his guitar steps directly into the spotlight, with Ruth showing more inclination to down-tune the strings and indulge in the subterranean ribcage-rattling slow-mo riffage rather than anything resembling conventional soloing. The effect is viscerally exciting. The impossibly heavy riffs that enter the free jazz-hued sax wails, harp ripples and percussive incantations of the accurately titled ‘Aspiring to the Sky’ bring to mind an unstoppable giant that just about fits inside a confined space without pushing everything else out of the way, before the horns pick up an equally doomy motif. Imagine the slowed-down Black Sabbath moves of Sunn O))) gatecrashing a vintage Alice Coltrane workout, and you’ve a fair whiff of the heady and pummelling proceedings. After this, slow-burn sketching of closer ‘Somewhere In Time’ (with faint echoes of John Martin’s 1978 proto-ambient masterpiece One World, perhaps) provides soothing balm to any frayed eardrums.