In these days of self-isolation and social distancing, we find ourselves with a lot of time to look inwards. But no matter how much introspection you get done, one thing’s for sure — Ruthie Collins is way ahead of you. On her sophomore album, Cold Comfort, she shows incredible self-awareness, guiding the listener through a tumultuous tunnel of guilt, grief, and heartbreak, before courageously emerging out the other side.

The album opens with ‘Joshua Tree’, a movingly poetic tale of setting your demons free under the light “where a million stars catch fire to the sky”. It plays like a bottle of Jack Daniels honey whiskey, with Collins’ soothing, sugary vocals washing warmly over you before the kick of emotional rawness reminds you that this isn’t a child’s drink. The line, “Will you say my name like hallelujah, love me like you’re free”, hints at the underlying tension, and we soon realise this is a song about a lost loved one. The accompanying video fills in the gaps, with Collins being haunted by flashbacks of her partner’s battle with substance abuse, before it reaches its tragic denouement. The song is inspired by country legend Gram Parson’s death at the Joshua Tree Inn.

‘Untold’ carries the same gravitas, as Collins pulls you hypnotically along the winding road of “a love story untold”, the track building with every twang of the electric guitar to a bittersweet crescendo. She lets loose on the titular ‘Cold Comfort’, with a punchy, high-energy beat and a compelling hook. She tries to rationalise her pain, reassuring herself that it will only get better with time, before conceding that this is only a ‘cold comfort’.

The battle between head and heart is a persistent theme, particularly on ‘Bad Woman’, Collins’ recently released single. She grapples with her temptation to pursue a taken man, and playfully wonders whether life would be easier if she could just leave her conscience behind and do what she wants. Collins finds herself stuck in another moral quandary on ‘Cheater’: she begins to have feelings for a new man, and while her ex is no longer a part of the picture, she still finds herself feeling as if she’s cheating on him. Collins repeats the word “cheater” over and over again, as if we are hearing the voice in her head incessantly taunting her.

Cold Comfort is a tangled, thorny bouquet of roses, the sweet scents and elegance constantly countered by the anguish lying beneath. Every song has a sombre tinge, and this makes for a captivating listen. Given the testing times we are in, my initial reaction was to wish Collins had included a few shafts of light to break up the clouds of darkness that hang ominously over her new album.

I would still say some moments of uplifting levity wouldn’t go amiss, just to show Collins’ versatility as an artist. However, the more you listen, the more you realise that the tone of this album isn’t one of torment or pain, despite its subject matter. It’s overwhelmingly peaceful and easy to listen to, and this takes me back to Collins’ self-awareness. She may be documenting tragedy, but we hear her voice coming from a place of acceptance, and despite the flashes of agony that pervade Cold Comfort, the feeling the album imparts to the listener is one of serenity.

Collins’ warm, laid-back voice coupled with her vintage-chic aesthetic gives her an appealing uniqueness, and it feels as though she is heading for the country charts in her own lane. She draws inspiration from the likes of Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris, and the poignance she gives to every line, every image, and every melody underlines her dedication to the history and craft of country music. If you’re going to be a country star, you have to be able to tell a good story. On Cold Comfort, Collins pieces together a richly detailed and deeply moving tapestry of tragedy, vulnerability, and, despite it all, strength — leaving listeners with a renewed sense of determination to tackle the unprecedented challenges facing us today.

Ruthie Collins’ album ‘Cold Comfort’, featuring the brand new single ‘Bad Woman’, is released on April 3rd.

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