Released: August 2014
Tenderly picking his acoustic guitar through the eleven tracks on debut LP Heartsong, singer-songwriter Ruu Campbell seeks to escape to the forest and become at one with the world, his music sounding organic, spiritual and personally cathartic. The Shrewsbury-born singer displays soft, warming vocals and a fine handling of six strings, but in terms of actual substance there’s a lot to be desired here, as a large bulk of the tracks blend into each other leaving little resonance lingering behind in the listener’s mind.
What cannot be disputed is Campbell’s instrumental prowess, alongside his ability to understand texture and musical arrangement. The listener is hit during opening song Caravan by smooth, liquid sounding acoustic picking, a seamless display of ascending and descending chords accompanying creamy falsetto vocals that recall Bon Iver and Elliot Smith. His skill with the guitar remains a prominent feature throughout the record, as does his ability to build upon songs with gorgeous strings in tracks such as Soul & Solace and Mathereal, and quirky woodwind sounds as in closing number Crystalline.
Unfortunately Campbell’s quality in performing isn’t equalled by the depth of his writing. There are some standout numbers on Heartsong, but their reasons for seeming unique are limited to the odd vocal hook that might resonate with the listener or a well constructed string arrangement. There are few moments that really drag you into the songs, that help to transport you to the spiritual world the album is trying to visualise.
Strong as his vocal and guitar performances are, they are limited to the same old tricks for the most part: falsetto, pizzicato and introspective lyrics that border on self-indulgence. By the time the album reaches a track titled Magic Tree it’s pretty clear that Campbell is running out of inspiration, referring to vague pseudo-psychedelic clichés and showing a sever lack of originality.
Heartsong isn’t without its merits; the stripped back production that lets us hear the squeaking of each guitar string as Campbell’s hands caress the instrument’s neck and the organic sound of the record’s vocal harmonies will certainly prove popular with folk fans. It’s a very honest record, reflected in both the lyricism and style of recording, just one that doesn’t really manage to stretch across the length of a whole LP without becoming, to put it simply, rather boring.
“Tell me where the road ends” croons Ruu Campbell on Crossroads, one of many tracks on this record that passes the listener by leaving little in its wake. This lyric is relevant to most of Heartsong, as Campbell seems to get lost in a maze of repetitive melodies and aimless song structures. It can be subtle and soothing at times, but this album is essentially an uninspiring collation of hallmark modern folk sounds from an artist not really sure about which direction to go in to put his own unique stamp on things.