Jenny Ritter’s second solo album follows 2013’s lauded debut Bright Mainland and finds the songwriter in rude health. And busy; as well as writing for herself, she looks after two rock choirs, tours and collaborates with like-minded musicians and has a series of festival appearances in her native Canada lined up for the Summer. This multi-faceted approach to her craft doesn’t appear to be diluting the quality of her material; Raised By Wolves is fun, feisty and on the odd occasion, feral.
Thirty seconds into second track A History Of Happiness, you could be forgiven for thinking the album will follow traditional folk pathways. Opener Museum Song’s delicate banjo and fiddle melody calls to mind The Wailin’ Jenny’s and A History Of Happiness begins in the same vein but goes through both a gear and style change as the drums kick in. Suddenly, you’re in the border country, where folk sits down with pop and invites confessional song-writing over for coffee; think Laura Veirs’ dark, open space imagery with an ear for the candy chorus often found in Lucy Rose’s music. It’s a brilliant song and it elevates the album to another level, one it rarely climbs down from.
The marriage of genre’s continues with Wolf Wife, a tense tale of strong will and wilderness, laced with pedal steel and bared teeth – ‘I’ve been ripping at the seams / Got a need to kiss the knife / And I was raised by wolves / So I will be a wolf wife’. You Are Also Them is a glorious rush of metaphor built on racing fiddle and Ritter ignores standard mid-album law by following it with the lovely, wistful instrumental Slide Mountain.
When she sings ‘Look to the east and you’ll find me there / Look to the west it’s the same / One is just a feeling my love / The other is just a name’ in Remember The Life, there’s an overt sense of a musician stretching her wings and reaching beyond boundaries without ever disrespecting where she’s come from. Ritter’s combination of geographical and internal mapping, in this instance enhanced by electric guitar, is a constant you can hold onto or let loose flock-of-doves style into the unknown. It makes for compelling listening; you can feel the tension in the repeated wish for the warmth of a home hearth even as the horizon beckons.
Perhaps the most delicious element of Raised By Wolves is the lack of resolution. Even closing track Lost And Found’s key couplet, ’Cause I lost something that I never had / And I got something I didn’t know I wanted’ hints at the difficulty of coming down on either side of the fence, so resigning Ritter to the pain and pleasure of the thin line in-between, the hinterland where pack animals are as comfortable together as they are alone. She commands the space with ease and the result is terrific.
Why Jenny, what beautiful songs you have.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
Released 13 April 2015 via Fiddle Head Records