RUTHIE McQUINN – Ruthenium
(2023 Self Release)
You can get a taste of Ruthenium here.
Given the length of time they’ve been around, the Krause family may be one of the most criminally underrated music entities in the city. They are Madison’s version of the Carter family, allowing their music embraces so many additional styles (check out our July 2017 review of the Krause Family Band’s A Letter to Mother).
Ruthenium was released September 1st by Ruthie McQuinn, daughter of the Krause family patriarch Rick Krause. The album includes eleven songs, all penned by her with backing from the family and many more. Elements of soul, Americana, blues, folk, jazz and country are seamlessly melded into what is an extraordinarily rewarding album. Every song is good and each could be award-winning, conceivably in several respective genres.
Conceptually, Ruthenium is quite unique. There is the main element Ruth (Ru 44) but the songs are also cleverly grouped into four elements. The first three tracks are Nu (Nuclear Elements) the next three are Sw (Elements of Sweetness) the next three are Lg (Elements of Longing) and the final two are Hp (Elements of Hope). The accompanying musicians are also elementally classed: Kb for Krause Family Band (some of whom basically play on all the tracks); Br for featuring [members of] the Brothers Quinn; Rk for featuring JP Cyr & the Ramblin’ Kind (Milwaukee country band) and Ax for auxiliary musicians: Jason Goldsmith – sax; Scott Pedersen – accordion; and Mark Hutchins – flute & banjo. Ruthie handles lead vocals and plays fiddle.
The album was recorded, mixed and mastered by UW-Whitewater audio engineering instructor Brian Lucas who is also a member of the four-piece Brothers Quinn (as is Ruthie’s ex-husband Blaine McQuinn who is also a fiddle player). The production is spectacular. Even with all these different contributors the songs have continuity. More importantly the mix really “breathes” with the vocals riding comfortably over the top. “[Brian] was able to rope students (for extra credit) into helping him set up a studio in his home with UW-Whitewater recording equipment for this project,” Ruthie says. “He’s been wanting to use his home as a recording space for a long time and this was his first go at it. We recorded the whole album in one weekend with the different bands coming in shifts and recording the songs live in one room. My dad had COVID, so Brian set up an isolation room for him down the hall. We added in a few extra things later and redid a few vocal parts, but otherwise the album is recorded live.”
All the songs on Ruthenium are nothing short of quality compositions but this could be considered a vocal record as much as a singer/songwriter showcase for Ruthie. Her lead vocals are clear and spot-on. The harmonies provided by dad Rick and sister Katie Krause are luscious; a heavenly blend of intoxicating overtones, no doubt made richer by the family chemistry.
“Little Heidi,” an ode to their sister, is a standout with its throwback feel. The Andrews Sisters-like vocals are sweet, the track lilting like a warm summer day. Ruthie’s violin leads in and there are solos from Scott Wright on piano and Jason Goldsmith on sax. Another highlight is “Too Long on the Vine,” Scott Wright’s organ adding drama to the lament. “Some Sunny Day” references Ross Parker and Charles Hughes who authored the classic “We’ll Meet Again” and that song is joined at the end; a very classy and fitting tribute. Simply beautiful. “Heel to Toe” is a folk dirge with Ruthie’s gritty and confident fiddle bursts. “King Leon” accentuates the living room feel with backing from the “Rk” ensemble and some tasty soloing from guitarist Danny Tyksinski. Another “Rk”-backed tune, “Driftin’ and Shiftin’” will have you reaching for your Loretta Lynn records. “Just Like You” is beautifully comforting and relatable. “Soon” closes the album on a particularly gorgeous and hopeful note. A lullaby to a child, its emotively tender vocals will pull at the heartstrings.
Ruthenium is what could be referred to as a truly classic Madison-based recording because as exceptional as it is, it is also timeless. Fifty years from now this album will still sound fresh and the sentiments will be just as sweet. Authenticity is something that can seep out of music of any style and from any time; a quality that is as rare as it is movingly direct. As we seemingly teeter on the edge of collapse these sentiments of family, simplicity – sweetness, hope and longing – remind us that our heart still beats and as the lyrics of “Soon” suggest, “Soon we’ll see the sun again.”