Ruins Barren, eh? Sounds like some death metal band - and that album title, Land Of Desolation fits the bill too. But no, the album cover depicts Ruins Barren toting an acoustic guitar as he leans against an old stone wall, wearing shades in the gloom, and looking like a misplaced busker offering something windswept and interesting.
Except that when I dropped the metaphorical needle on the opening track, I thought, “I know that voice”. The Leonard Cohen-esque croak immediately reminded me of Smokin’ Tiglio,
|Ruins Barren - could do with an interior decorator
Pic by Marco Cattaneo
Well, a few minutes investigation reveals that neither Ruins Barren nor Smokin’ Tiglio are entirely for real. They are both nom de guerres, or alter egos, of a certain Marco Costa, who sings and plays guitar in another band, called Fattore Rurale, where he styles himself as Marco Della Morte – ‘Marco Of Death’!
Whatever. On Land Of Desolation the mode of expression is, indeed, a melange of country-folk and blues, with yer Ruins Barren fella in multi-instrumentalist mode playing guitars, dobro and keyboards among other things, and getting an occasional helping hand from some pals. Lyrically, it’s as dark as the title suggests, if not darker – bleak, alienated stuff of a “This is hell, nor are we out of it” bent – for which Barren’s wrecked bass groan is the perfect vehicle. And on songs like ‘Dancin’ In The Wind’ and ‘A Love Story’ he and his producer Ricky Ferranti add to the dense atmosphere by combining several layers of Barren’s voice, sometimes in a spoken rumble or husky whisper. Barren’s accented diction isn’t all that great at times, but you’ll get the idea all the same.
Funnily enough though, the music isn’t universally gloomy – there’s often light and shade at work. On the opening track ‘Chicago Illinois’ the opening may be all gently rippling guitar, toots of restrained harp, and sonorous piano chords, but then it shifts into a higher gear with some Dylan-ish folky acoustic strumming. ‘A Love Story’ starts off with gentle acoustic guitar and halting vocals, but it gradually swells in romantic fashion around the chorus, aided by sweeps of cello from Elena Castagnola, as Barren intones about how “love goes beyond death”. And on ‘Crossroad’ the rolling, bluesy guitar-picking picks up into a positively toe-tapping chorus.
‘Charles Wilson Ford’ is forbiddingly dark, to be sure, as the title character sinks into suicidal despondency following his part in the killing of Jesse James by his brother Robert Ford, accompanied by some classical orientated acoustic playing and elegiac cello. But ‘Damp Lips’ canters along with bright and brisk acoustic strumming and deploys some twanging electric guitar, while ‘Keep Away From The Shed’ manages to be jaunty and dark at the same time as it meshes together at least two guitars, and ‘2nd Floor Room 104’ goes round and round over and interesting, pattering rhythm, with some twanging courtesy of Barren’s dobro, until some slivers of trumpet from Gianni Satta float into the ending from different angles.
With startling synchronicity, Land Of Desolation is stylistically located not a million miles away from Bob Dylan’s new tunes ‘I Contain Multitudes’ and ‘Murder Most Foul’, but remote enough to be pained rather than bittersweet, more agitated than hypnotic. So if those two servings of His Bobness weren’t enough for you, Ruins Barren may have a third course to satisfy your cravings.
Land Of Desolation was released on 3 April 2020 by PA74 Music.