Brought together at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in the American Roots Program by their passion for bluegrass, The Ruta Beggars infuse traditional bluegrass and early swing to create a timeless act filled with intricate yet smooth vocal harmonies, fiery instrumentals, and plenty of fun. They have been praised for their creative yet tasteful arrangements and charming performances. The group became quick friends.
They spend time jamming and busking together as well as time under the direction of Berklee faculty (Dave Hollander, Matt Glaser, Darol Angor, Tony Trischka, et al) as a bluegrass band. In the last five years as a touring group, they’ve released two recorded projects full of original material (The Ruta Beggars’ Ever-Changing) and an album of novel arrangements of traditional songs (Folk Tales) with plans for another original album recorded later this year. The band has performed alongside Tony Trischka, as an opener for Lyle Lovett, and headlined the stages of the largest bluegrass festivals in New England and beyond (as far as Dallas, TX, IBMA’s World of Bluegrass, Northern Lights Festival in Big River, Saskatchewan). They also are the winners of the Thomas Point Band competition of 2019, and were commissioned alongside the Steep Canyon Rangers to perform a Bluegrass Concerto at FreshGrass music festival in North Adams, MA.
The Ruta Beggars is a bluegrass band that primarily appeals to those gathered around the fence demarcating traditionalists and progressive bluegrass fans. In addition to a strong core of hard-driving and tasteful replications of a bluegrass performance, they incorporate fiery instrumentals and sweet harmony that supports heartfelt compositions. You’ll hear influences as well as outright depictions of swing music, especially in their vocal arrangements. Ever-Changing is an album that speaks of evolution and adaptation.
Whether it’s to do with the changing nature of a love relationship, as it is in the album’s title track, or adapting to a loss as in “Red Carpet” or “The Way That You Loved Me.” The album was produced by Justin Moses & The Ruta Beggars. Recorded and mixed by Dan Cardinal at Dimension Sound Studios; Boston, MA. Mastered by David Glasser at Airshow Mastering; Boulder, CO. The group is made up of: Sofía Chiarandini (fiddle), Micah Nicol (guitar), Noah Harrington (bass), Ariel Wyner (mandolin), Trevin Nelson (banjo), and Justin Moses (dobro).
The band’s opening song “Papa’s Got a Hold of the Wine” features all players performing in true bluegrass fashion. With a quick rhythm, the band sings about that all too familiar vice – alcohol – and a father who’s had a little too much of the sauce after his wife dies. Told from the perspective of his care-giving children. “Red Carpet” is about a mother who’s time is up – “She’d always talk about racing to God….but mama this can’t be your time.” Well, apparently in this song it was. “Red Carpet” takes the bluegrass trope of the “murder ballad” and morphs it into a story of a mother’s suicide in the form of a “solve-it-yourself” mystery revolving on the exploitation of a dual meaning in the phrase “roll out the red carpet.”
This one features some fantastic vocal harmonies and a waltzing rhythm. The next track “Ever Changing Love” showcases some wild and fast banjo playing, a terrific upright bass solo and an energetic pace from start to finish. On this one part where two members sing “As long as I’ve been loving you I’m learning / We’re still turning to something new” – I can’t help but be reminded of ‘70s soft rock duo Seals & Crofts. Overall, a great song about being in love. “Hold Me Close” features a nice, mandolin intro and a more acoustically driven song. The band showcases more of their original talent, peppered with folk elements and acapella singing. Lyrically, this one’s about heartbreak, love and loss. “Pass You By” features solo breaks by each member of the band and more great vocal harmonies. A steady bluegrass beat from start to finish.
“The Way That You Loved Me” made me think of some of those great, melancholy country classics I grew up hearing as a kid. Singers like George Jones, Marty Robbins, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash come to mind. The words are reflective. The band sings about how one person’s experiences doubts as to whether or not they gave their ex enough love. “Still I can’t help but wonder / did I ever love you / they way that you loved me” sure tugs at the heart. If you’re into yodeling and/or yodeling songs, well, you’re in for a treat with this next tune “Yodeling Yasmin” features the chorus of Nicol, Nelson and Wyner (who by the way wrote this number). This was a fun, entertaining song!
The band mixes just a bit of bluegrass, but if you’re familiar with 1920’s ragtime jazz, there’s more of that in this one. Lyrically, it’s a fictitious story of a yodeling girl from Tennessee that is begged to sing by a barbershop trio. The Ruta Beggars’ last tune is called “I’ll Never Forget” and it’s one of the longer tracks on the album. This is a sweet, but sad song, about an older couple and a father who is talking with his son about the memories of his mother – “You and I both loved your mother / She’s sure smiling down on us now / I wish I remembered the details / But that’s not what love is about.” It’s about the stories Nicol’s grandparents told him, and touches on the pain of Alzheimers and the loss of memory.
Featured is a gorgeously played solo break between the upright bass (played with a bow for a short time), the banjo and the fiddle. Man – sounds so good! If you’re into traditional bluegrass with a bit of swing, you sure can’t go wrong with this remarkably talented band from Boston.