Artists On Albums: AOA#53 (Lake Ruth’s Allison Brice on The Source)

Allison Brice (Lake Ruth) on…

Jimmy Scott’s The Source (Atlantic Records, 1970)

Jimmy Scott – The Source

Like many, my first encounter with Jimmy Scott was via his commanding performance of the haunting and inscrutable “Sycamore Trees” in the Twin Peaks second season finale. Pensive and tuxedo-clad, he crooned against a backdrop of brilliant red, inhabiting completely the idea of a ‘man from another place’. Little did I know back then that this enigmatic vocalist, credited as James V. Scott, had been a legend during his time – influencing singers across many genres and generations. And nowhere are his gifts more apparent than on his 1970 masterpiece, The Source.

Shelved for 32 years prior to its eventual re-release in 2001 (thanks to a label owner whose cruelty made the most Lynchian of villains seem reasonable by comparison), The Source is a mesmerising listen. What, in the hands of most artists, would be a typical collection of torch songs and popular tunes, becomes something altogether otherworldly, mysterious and deeply tragic via the unique power of Scott’s voice.

Simply put, Jimmy Scott possessed a voice like none other in recorded history: an androgynous countertenor born of Kallman syndrome, a rare genetic condition that inhibits the onset of puberty – and in Scott’s case prevented his voice from deepening as he aged. Radio listeners often assumed he was female, and he was mistakenly credited as such in early recordings. The album cover of The Source features a photo of an anonymous young woman, making one wonder if the Atlantic executives who commissioned it were uncomfortable with Scott’s appearance. Speaking to his biographer David Ritz, Scott remarked, “I’ve been called a queer, a little girl, an old woman, a freak and a fag. As a singer, I’ve been criticised for sounding feminine. But I grew to see my affliction as my gift.”

It’s that particular combination of singularly unique tone, masterful timing, true vocal virtuosity and devastating delivery that make The Source such an enchanting and immersive listening experience. Scott’s artistry completely transforms the fairly standard material in unexpected and arresting ways: slowing the tempo down to a crawl, evading the beat with his unique phrasing, and infusing each syllable with genuine pathos and longing.  Most performances this emotionally intense can’t help but veer towards stagey pretension – but not Jimmy Scott’s.  He always, at every moment of the album’s duration, sounds entirely genuine and natural. And incredibly intimate, which is astounding given the fact that he is accompanied by both a quartet (Junior Mance: piano, Eric Gale & Billy Butler: guitar, Ron Carter: bass, and Bruno Carr: drums) and a string orchestra.

Jimmy Scott was born in 1925 in Cleveland, Ohio, the third child in a family of ten. His musical gifts were inherited from his mother, Justine, who often accompanied him on the family piano. At age 13, he was orphaned when Justine was tragically killed by a drunk driver. One of the more devastating performances on The Source is Scott’s rendition of the traditional African-American spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child”. Though the lyrics are thought to allude to the plight of slavery, and despair of being forcefully separated from homeland and family – Scott’s own tragic loss can’t help but potently inform his interpretation. It’s a haunting evocation of ancestral trauma shaped and honed by intense personal bereavement.

Like Scott’s preceding album, Falling In Love Is Wonderful (recorded for Ray Charles’ Tangerine label in 1963), The Source was pulled from the shelves soon after release by Savoy Records founder Herman Lubinsky – who claimed to have Scott under lifetime contract. Decades would pass before either album would see the light of day, and Scott returned to his native Cleveland to work as a hospital orderly, shipping clerk and elevator operator.  He returned to music in the late 1980s via a series of fortunate events, and continued to record and perform up until his death in 2014 at the age of 88. His voice never left him. “When I sang, I soared,” he said. “Once I knew that, I understood that God had put me in this strange little package for a reason. All I needed was the courage to be me. That courage took a lifetime to develop.”

Notes On The Artist:

Allison Brice

Having grown-up in Georgia and Louisiana, Allison Brice’s musical career properly began whilst living in London between 2002 and 2013.  During this period Brice made-up part of folk-rock revivalists The Eighteenth Day Of May (on vocals, flute, harmonium and dulcimer) alongside Richard Olson (of The See See and The Hanging Stars).  The group released one eponymous album on Rykodisc imprint Hannibal Records as well as three singles, during a 2003-2007 lifespan.  Also, during her London years, Brice initiated still ongoing but as yet unreleased side-project The Silver Abduction, with composer/producer Andy Dragazis (Blue States).

Since relocating back to the US in 2013, the now Miami, Florida-based Brice has built a fruitful cross-state-collaboration with NYC-dwelling multi-instrumentalist Hewson Chen (The New Lines) and drummer Matt Schulz (Savak, Holy Fuck) as Lake Ruth.  After forming in 2015, the trio featuring Brice on lead vocal and lyrical duties, released a debut 7” and an inaugural LP (Actual Entity) for The Great Pop Supplement in 2016 and a handful of digital/cassette releases for TBTCI Records (Brazil), WW2W (France) and The Active Listener (New Zealand) in 2017. In-between putting out releases, Lake Ruth have also been performing live with an extended six-piece line-up that includes René Dennis (The New Lines), Sohrab Habibion (Obits, SAVAK) and David Mason (Listening Center).

Lake Ruth – Birds of America

Newly available digitally via Bandcamp and on vinyl through the clandestine Feral Child imprint is Lake Ruth’s second studio full-length, Birds Of America.  Beautifully adorned with sleeve art from Edinburgh artist Alan Mills Jr, the new album satisfyingly finesses and extends upon the reach of Actual Entity.  With the threesome clearly comfortable in each other’s creative company, the long-player dexterously shifts and segues through chiming yet foggy nouveau shoegaze (“VV” and the titular-track), strident Stereolab-meets-Broadcast space-pop (“Julia’s Call” and “One Of Your Own”), swirling psych-rock reveries (“The Cross Of Lorraine” and “Under The Waning Moon”), gallic art-funk (“Radiant City”), fragrant Fifth Dimension-infused lysergic twangling (“Walter And The Taxi” and “Westway”) and spectral warped acid-folk (“White Wall”).  Birds Of America is being supported by a select sprinkling of special live shows in the US.