Frank Ruck of the New Jersey-based Blue Jersey Band has released an album that is solo in every sense of the word. The bulk of the material contained within Americana Wandering was written by Ruck, and all of the vocals and instruments are performed by him as well.
Americana Wandering is somewhat of a misleading title, as this project is all over the map stylistically. While tracks such as Cheatin’ and Summer Shadow do fall into the Americana camp, others such as The Fields of New Jersey and Joshua Slocum’s Song are Irish pieces. Kentucky Ridge is a combination of the Gypsy jazz melody, Joseph Joseph, set to lyrics telling a story about the coal mining town of Hazard, KY, ultimately making it an interesting bluegrass arrangement.
The medley, New Banjo Reel/Saint Anne’s Reel is another track that is characteristically bluegrass. Ruck’s solid banjo playing is not to be overlooked here. Dueling Django is a wonderful Gypsy jazz take on the concept of Dueling Banjos. The piece has a very catchy melody and a nice rhythmic feel as well. Frank Ruck’s mandolin work really shines on this composition. While Ruck’s singing is pleasant, his instrumental work is definitely his greatest strength as an artist.
Another of Frank’s strengths is his ability as a songwriter. Examples of this can be found in Easy Friday Evening and Ten O’clock Bus. Lyrically speaking, these two songs have a slight poetic feel to them, yet both do a great job of connecting the listener to the stories they tell.
The greatest weakness of Americana Wandering is sequencing and song selection. While most of these tracks stand well independently, they really don’t fit together, ultimately resulting in an incohesive sense of direction. Tracks such as Alien Vacation Spot and Pentangle feel completely out of place alongside everything else on the project. Both pieces would more than likely fare better as singles.
While Americana Wandering is a nice recording from a musical and production standpoint, it can be a bit of a difficult listen. It’s an album that could mostly appeal to an adventurous audience.