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Ruthie Collins

Ruthie Collins had never been much of a rule breaker, but last year, when she quietly slipped into the studio without letting anyone know what she was up to, she knew she was taking a major risk.  “Making this album felt like a sink or swim moment for me,” says Collins. “I felt like I needed to just go for it, to just trust my instincts and make the album I’d always wanted to make.”

 

One listen to the resulting record, ‘Cold Comfort,’ and it’s clear that Collins’ gamble paid off. A captivating blend of cinematic roots, intimate Folk, and old-school Country, the album foregoes the Pop shine of Collins’ earlier work.  Instead it favors  a rawer, more honest sound, one that hints at Americana legends like Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris as it pairs rich, orchestral strings and sweeping pedal steel with hypnotizing harmonies and indelible hooks.   

 

The songs here span the last five years of Collins’ life, charting her sometimes harrowing emotional evolution with boldly vulnerable lyrics and unflinching self examination and a  delivery that is both heartrending and soul bearing to match. The result is a collection that learns to make peace with pain, a lush, moving record that finds strength in sadness, gratitude in hardship, and growth in the most unlikely of places.  “Recording these songs was exciting and scary all at once,” says Collins. “When my label heard the finished product, they loved it and understood why I did what I did, and I’m so grateful for that support.”

 

Raised on a grape farm in Fredonia, New York, Collins fell in love with music from an early age. She learned about the Classical world from her mother, a pianist and organist, and the Gospel world from church, where she sang in the choir.  It was the radio that first introduced her to the magic of Pop and Country, and she spent her formative teenage years enamored with the stories and melodies that lit up the dial. After high school, Collins headed to Boston to study music in college, but with just one semester left, she dropped out and moved to Texas to take a job as contemporary vocal director at the largest Lutheran church in the country. As much as she loved the work, Collins quickly came to realize that it wasn’t what she was meant to do with her life, and so, six months later, she packed her bags once again, this time for Nashville.

 

“I spent the next five years waiting tables to support my songwriting habit,” Collins laughs. “Then in 2011, demos of some songs I’d written landed in the hands of Curb Records.  They reached out to sign me as both a writer and an artist. It took years, but suddenly my world changed overnight.”  At Curb, Collins joined a roster that included Country powerhouses like Lee Brice and Dylan Scott.   Collins began to turn heads almost immediately with a series of critically acclaimed releases and show stopping festival performances everywhere from Stagecoach to FarmBorough. Rolling Stone raved that “Collins' voice has the fluttery nuances more common in the seventies Laurel Canyon than in modern Country,” while the LA Times praised her “Sunny demeanor,” and CMT named her to their prestigious “Next Women Of Country” series. Though her reviews were glowing, Collins found herself at the mercy of the  Music City machine far beyond her control, one that frequently made her feel as if she were running in circles.  Rather than look for something or someone to blame, she decided to focus her energy inwards.

 

“I went through a lot of spiritual development,” Collins explains. “I didn’t want to complain about the lack of women on Country radio anymore and I didn’t want to need anybody else’s validation, so I started meditating and journaling and focusing on positive thinking and it gave me the strength and confidence to pursue what I really cared about.”  It was that strength and confidence that led Collins to put her entire career on the line and head into the studio sans permission for ‘Cold Comfort.’

 

With the help of her guitarist/producer Wesley Harllee, Collins put together a band of friends that felt like family for the whirlwind sessions, eschewing the typical first call studio crowd in favor of the kind of kindred creative souls that can communicate without speaking. They cut the core of the record live in just two days, after which Collins and Harllee finished out the week capturing vocals, layering harmonies, and fleshing out arrangements before handing things off to GRAMMY-winner Ryan Freeland (Bonnie Raitt, Ray LaMontagne) to mix.  "Ryan mixes light and dark like no other,” says Harllee. “Everything he touches breathes,  it’s not static. There’s an art and a beauty to it, and I knew he could bring that magic to Ruthie’s songs."

 

The record begins, ironically enough, with the end of Collins’ journey, opening with “Joshua Tree,” the most recent tune in her catalog.  Praised for its “ethereal vocals alongside soaring string features, minimal piano parts, and delicate percussion,” the track began life as a tribute to the love story of Gram and Emmylou, but it took on a life of its own as the stark desert landscape became an important emotional and spiritual focal point in Collins’ personal life. Like so much of the album, the track is dreamy and sensuous, with Collins’ tender vocals floating above a sea of swirling textures and stirring countermelodies as she sings about desire and heartache. The poignant “Dang Dallas” reckons with loss and longing, while the bittersweet title track comes to terms with the things we’ll never get back, and the devastating “You Can’t Remember” grapples with loving someone struggling with addiction.

 

“I wrote that song three days after we had to call 911 and have my boyfriend at the time hospitalized for an OD,” says Collins. “It was such a hard song to cut, and they probably recorded me sobbing for 45 minutes, just take after take of me totally losing it in the booth. But I know there are a lot of people out there who love someone battling an addiction, and it was important for me to share my story for them."

 

 As dark as the album can get, it’s ultimately a document of hope and growth and transformation. The searing “Hey Little Girl,” for instance, discovers a stronger sense of self in the aftermath of a toxic relationship, while the waltzing “Change” learns to accept what lies beyond our control, and the tongue-in-cheek “Bad Woman” takes comfort in embracing our truest selves. It was writing the album’s closing track, though, the fingerpicked “Beg Steal Borrow,” that perhaps helped Collins the most.

 

“Writing that song was a reminder to respect myself, to not settle for anything less than I deserve,” she explains. “It was a wakeup call to take a good long look in the mirror and figure out who I am and what I really want from this life.”

 

These days, Ruthie Collins knows exactly who she is and what she wants, and as ‘Cold Comfort’ demonstrates, she’s willing to break a few rules to make sure you do, too.