Ruth Gerson: Deceived

A woman is most likely…to be murdered by a man who “loves her.”
–Ruth Gerson

As a member of a family affected by domestic violence—my granddaughter, Reagan, forever 2 ½, one of its victims—I was first interested in reviewing this album because a portion of the sales is being donated to several organizations that benefit victims of abuse.

I was also intrigued by the cover art, a black ink drawing of a raven-haired woman, clad only in undergarments, lying face down along the bank of some water. A stream, a river, a lake? It doesn’t much matter. She is deceased, the circumstances suspicious and tragic, the stuff of gossip and local legend.

Deceived, Ruth Gerson’s latest CD, is, ironically, soothing—“deceptively listenable” the singer/songwriter contends—her smoky, often sultry, always soulful voice reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, Natalie Merchant, and Patti Smith. A survivor of abuse herself, Gerson, with a sincere urgency, delivers a collection of eleven tracks which disturb, “the stories of the songs difficult to hear.”

Gerson covers songs written and/or originally performed by Peggy Seeger, Bobbie Gentry, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Tom Jones, and Doc Watson, mixed with centuries-old folk ballads from far-off Britain or nearby Appalachia. Most of the stories, rendered simply with minimal accompaniment and an eerie, tell-tale heartbeat, revolve around women who are loved (or in love) then used, abused, and either killed or, in desperation, driven to take their own lives. In “Butcher’s Boy,” an innocent lass commits suicide over the boy who ignores her; in “Delilah,” a cuckolded husband stabs his unfaithful wife; in “Omie Wise,” a man lures a naïve young girl to the edge of a stream with promises of “money and other fine things” then callously drowns her; in “Knoxville Girl,” the twisted perp is jailed for murdering the girl he “loved so well.”

In these cautionary tales, victims are mostly either young, gullible girls enticed to the water’s edge to meet their grisly ends or “devilish” fallen women returning home to find locked doors and deaf ears. Killers are males, motivated by unrequited love, shame, jealousy, revenge, or avarice, who face futures filled with guilt, insanity, imprisonment, or, occasionally, regret. At least in these tales of murder and mayhem, some justice is meted out.

The biggest crime here would be passing on this plaintive, risky effort because of the nature of its subject matter. There is a peace to the music which belies the often lurid lyrics. Gerson has an inviting, evocative voice, a pure, uncomplicated style. She also happens to have a powerful and timely message to share; those in danger of succumbing to the cycle of abuse need to hear and heed it.

Those who appreciate good music need to pay attention, too.