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Ruarri Joseph – Shoulder To The Wheel

Faye Aitken-Smith


During October 2007, I was lucky enough to catch Ruarri Joseph touring to promote his debut album, Tales of Grime & Grit.  He was dynamic, fresh, full of energy and lovable. His a capella version of the album’s title song was mind blowing in it’s simplicity. Ruarri inspired and the album ended up being played on an endless loop far into the New Year in our house.

When I got the opportunity to review his latest offering, Shoulder to the Wheel, I jumped at the chance. What if Shoulder to the Wheel was as good as Grime and Grit?  But it isn’t. Ruarri’s debut album was full of joy and new beginnings. It was all excitement and innocence. But something has happened to Ruarri in the last three years and it shows in the music. As a whole package, the new songs offered are tinged with heartache, sadness, loss and even tiredness.

The first song of the album, Nervous Grin, hints of something special.  Ruarri’s voice, strong as ever and his guitar playing, simple and effective.  But the next two disappoint, same old, and then you have Rich Folks Hoax.  This song is the highlight of the album, mainly because it is a cover of an already brilliant song by Sixto Rodriguez. There are one or two other songs that stand out, As Always and The Faithless Few.  For the Love of Grace made me just want to sing Jack and Diane by John Cougar, which is a better song by far, on the whole the album disappoints.

The thing is, Shoulder to the Wheel is not a bad album – but it is not a great album. And I think this is where the problem lays because I expected so much more. Whether life or the music business has jaded Ruarri or he has just lost a little of the fun he started out with, something is missing.  He has all the ingredients to make a blow away album right there at his finger tips.  But it was not this album. Maybe next time.