Natasha Bedingfield. Leona Lewis. Sara Bareilles. These are all modern day examples of accessibly crafted power-pop women who also know their ways around a few unforgettable hooks and an intangible sense of confidence that doesn't come prepackaged for lesser singer-songwriters. In fact, that sturdiness is what sets them apart. They've been hurt. They've been lied to. They've been cheated on. And they've had their perseverance challenged. Part of their appeal has nothing to do with whether any of those tales are true; rather it's the simple fact that it's easy to believe them when they tell us they are.
Baltimore songstress Ruut falls right in line with such bright-sounding strong souls. Her latest record, "Glimpse," is everything those chart-toppers are: powerful, moody, talented, unique and, above all else, smart. Smart enough to recognize real emotion when it presents itself, and even smarter to figure out how to turn such instinct into something beautifully artful, something that is both easy to connect with and impossible to ignore.
When she's good, she's great. "Make It Good," arguably the set's best song, is practically begging to be played on adult-pop radio, and if any programmer had any brains, this Finland-born singer wouldn't even have to deal with being featured in the local review section of some small-town entertainment weekly. Announcing itself with a particularly familiar electric guitar, the piano work Ruut offers nails the emotional, teenage sweet spot every Top 40 hit needs to succeed. Couple that with a chorus that is the audio equivalent of a bald eagle spreading its wings (and, not to mention, a gaggle of voices combining for an extra boost of power and substance), and what you have is a localized, slowed-down sequel to Bedingfield's "Unwritten."
More impressive, however, is the singer's marksmanship. Granddaughter of famed opera composer Aulis Sallinen, Ruut has a knack for the dramatic and puts it to good use on the SPCA-commercial-ready "Church Bells." An excellently somber original anthem that showcases precisely how pretty her vocals can sound when forced to stand alone, the quick hymn makes an awfully good case for getting up early on a Sunday morning. "Unbeatable" then takes the same formula and stretches out the sobering tone with angelic backing vocals that make such a small recording feel arena-ready.
And about those arenas: Ruut's ability to utilize world influences sews up the fact that she should one day fill them. "Hourglass" is moody and percussive, the singer hushing the verse, "Ours was a book that skipped to the end / It was over when you let go of my hand / Sometimes a hook gets caught in the sand / Love was sweet at the start / And I opened my heart / 'Cause I always believed there are happy endings," with enough dark undertones to light a planetarium. The title track, meanwhile, plays on such melancholy with a slight electronic addition before climaxing with the help of a full band that is picturesque in its theatrics.
Simply put, there's little the songwriter can't do. Craving some acoustic guitar? "Last One" puts a bow on the set with the requisite sparsity accentuated by a few infectious la-de-da-de-da-de-das. In need of an organ-led, Josh Kelly-like pop single? Check "Heartbreak," which, with the aid of a full band and some serious mid-tempo grooving, could soundtrack a CW special near you. And might you be considering self-doubt? Rarely can an artist call something "No One Will Ever Love You" and have it work. Here, however, the singer succeeds, her soft/loud dichotomy backing up such an angsty ideal with the parted follow-up, "the way I do" before taking a thinly veiled shot: "I'm all you'll ever need / I'm all you'll ever have."
Yet even if that's so, life could be a lot worse. Because "Glimpse," for all its versatility and all its grandeur, exists to formally announce Ruut as a top-shelf singer and an even better songwriter. At 10 songs, not once does it offer a dud, not once does it feel overreaching, and not once does it feel anything less than authentic. So, yeah. Sure, she might be all someone might ever have. But after sitting with these tiny masterpieces multiple times, it's hard to imagine anyone ever needing anything more than what she can offer.
Besides, if this is only supposed to be a glimpse, just imagine what a good, hard look might entail.
3 1/2 out of 4 stars
Colin McGuire is a writer and page designer at the News-Post as well the music reviews editor at PopMatters.com. His blog, TV Without A TV, can be found at blog.fredericknewspost.com. Want your album reviewed by the FNP? Email 72Hours@newspost.com for details.