Best of 2020: 21. Georgia Ruth ‘Mai’

Years of record buying instills in you a sense of which names to trust when it comes to considering new purchases. At the start of this year, the pretty heavyweight trio of the Bubblewrap Collective label, Radio Wales legend and all round good bloke Adam Walton and singer-songwriter Georgia Ruth coalesced around me in referencing the latter’s then-forthcoming album, ‘Mai’. I wrote at length previously about my love for her debut Week Of Pines and the follow up, ‘Fossil Scale’, was also a delight, so I was always going to be on side. However, there is something enjoyably heartening about splendid people working with and championing splendid people.

Mai

Bubblewrap Collective, a Cardiff based record label, is the sort of institution to whose entire release schedule I would happily subscribe, safe in the knowledge I would receive everything they put out. Charlie Francis, Sweet Baboo, Ivan Moult, Eugene Capper & Rhodri Brooks and The Gentle Good have all had releases on their imprint and they currently have some very appealingly priced bundles available if you’re fond of your ears. At the same time they announced that ‘Mai’ would be coming out via them, Walton played a teaser track on his always excellent Saturday night show and a pre-order for the very limited initial vinyl run was placed.

The album had the misfortune of coming out just before the entire world turned to shit and had to battle back to the foreground once a degree of equilibrium had been found in the wobbly lines of lockdown. Returning to the town where she had grown up, Aberystwyth, following the birth of her son, Georgia Ruth wrote an album exploring the reshaping of the world that is triggered by parenthood and responding to the pastoral pull of place. Moving between Welsh, English and instrumental, language proves fluid as these pieces form a beautifully cohesive whole.

The bare bones of ‘7 Rooms’ considers that new arrival, with evocative imagery that somehow gives words to the purest of human emotions: “Between these two worlds I watch you through the dim light. You move like fire in the shadow; there is something bright in you.” My shameful lack of Welsh betrays the land of my father but I’ve always been a melody person and they are here in substantial numbers on songs like the glisteningly beguiling ‘Terracotta’ and title track ‘Mai’, which uses the words of a poem written by Eifion Wyn, ‘Gwn ei ddyfod, fis y mêl’ or ‘I know it’s coming, month-of-honey’. It took on unimaginable importance once the early summer months emerged from the initial shock of the big pause, despite the album sessions taking place in a week during spring 2019.

‘Close For Comfort’ might be the most direct route in, with its mix of infectious jangle and the forthright demonstration of Ruth’s phenomenally dextrous voice. It was what caught my attention on the ‘In Luna’ EP back in 2012 and continues to floor me now. Her ability to shift tone, intensity and intent is utterly hypnotic and it ensures the meaning breaks through even if you’re not fully cognisant of the lyrics. The mellifluous harp feels a little less prominent this time around, but it is foregrounded on the aching ‘In Bloom’, which uses the presentation of nature to explore the wider impact of a child upon a relationship.

As our mental health takes a battering, our certainties shift before our very eyes and the digital noise envelops us, albums like ‘Mai’ can transport us: to Aberystwyth, to memories of family experiences and to a deeply emotional response that pulls attention from what is damaging us.

Buy ‘Mai’ on vinyl from Drift