[Music Review] Ruth O’Brien – ‘Invaluable’


Review by Vince Leigh

Canberra musician Ruth O’Brien has just released her debut EP, Invaluable, a jazz-tinged pop record with its centrepiece Ruth’s dusky vocals and her personal, forthright lyrics.

The EP is sonically unsparing, and the material performed with a multi-layered efficiency one would expect for a style which hovers somewhere between contemporary jazz and lush adult pop.

The title track is a good indicator of what to expect from the rest of the EP. Invaluable begins with strident semi-electric guitar pickings which set the rhythmical tone for the track.

But there are a few surprises. Once the descending chord arrangement of the verse sets in, and Ruth’s delicate timbre works the sparse melody—with the counterpoint here the direct, surprisingly unabashed lyric (a soft critique of social media woven within a few scant lines)—a sweetly melodic pre-chorus follows.

This part builds upon the preceding verse but leads effortlessly into a bittersweet, rich arrangement of layered vocal harmonies and intertwining brass lines.

And beneath all this is the rest of the band, providing a stable foundation, its dynamic shape enabling the song to evolve up to an engaging endpoint, this being the utilisation of the song’s title: its appearance satisfying the preceding lyric’s theoretical promise.

Another cycle of this same arrangement appears after which a sustained clean and biting guitar part is remodelled into yet another six-stringed interlude; this last one, however, containing all the soaring strains of a David Gilmour solo.

After a euphonic, natural musical peak is reached a final chorus ensues, this time, revealing a sparse interpretation, with Ruth’s soothing cadences making the most of the space, and accompanied by a lone electric piano and some economically placed chords.

It is an unsuspecting end to the song, which up to that point had ridden the crest of an auditory wave complete with sophisticated instrumentation and unlatched energy; there isn’t the more typical blistering bearing out of the chorus which would have been the predictable crescendo.

But the adoption of a more stripped back finish does accentuate the poignancy of the reflective lyric, as well as display the elegant and wistful characteristics of Ruth’s voice—this solitary summation characterising the entire breadth and depth of the EP.

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