//Album Review: On the Road to Love

Album Review: On the Road to Love

By Don Priest | kfsrbluesdog@gmail.com

Debi Ruud has a story to tell – about love: lost, found, and the spaces in between. Consequently, her new CD, “All That Matters,” is primarily an emotional sojourn through the highs and lows connected to affairs of the heart. “I was trying to tell a personal story that meant something to me. I wanted to tell sort of my life – not all of my life – but a significant portion of my life’s love story,” she says.

Like any life story, hers is convoluted one weaving its way through the love of singing (first discovered in high school) and continuing on through marriage, raising children, failed dreams, starting over and eventually finding new love.  The problem: how do you express all this life in a single body of work? Like the song says, “What to leave in? What to leave out?”    

For Debi, the first step on the road to achieving her vision was the choice of Tone – should the album be Jazz, Pop or somewhere in between – which in turn caused her to dwell on how she classifies herself as a singer. “I think because I’ve sung in so many top 40 cover bands for years and years and years, I was never able to fully figure out what kind of singer I am. I’m pretty versatile, but I get the most enjoyment out of singing jazz – because I feel the most vocally free and vocally in my element.”

That versatility is easily recognized via a quick perusal of her career. She began in high school singing in the choir, then with cover bands that played the pop hits of the day.  For a while, she focused on Gospel (“I wanted to be the next Amy Grant.”) followed by years singing tunes from the Great American Songbook with the “Joe Lenigan Band” and other Jazz ensembles.  She currently sings in a church choir, a small Pop group, and rocks that 70’s sound in “Debi Ruud and The Lost Souls.”

“Debi can do it all,” attests Lenigan. “She can sing a ballad sounding like June Christy in front of the Stan Kenton orchestra and turn around and sing a Diana Krall tune, and then turn around and sing anything from Etta James to Aretha Franklin. And do it effortlessly.” 

In the end and after much consideration, “All That Matters” became more of a Pop collection with some Jazz overtones. She wrote two songs herself and then spent “hours and hours picking through songs that I loved, that meant something to me over the years.”  The CD contains seven tunes, two originals and five very carefully selected covers. 

Of the tunes she penned, How Did We Get Here speaks of the loss she felt going through divorce, while Simple Things is an ode to her current joy. Woven in between are songs by Don Henley, Glen Fry, Lori McKenna and others that convey the essence of her journey, like The Heart of The Matter.  “That song is so beautiful and says exactly what I wanted to say,” is how she describes it. 

Debi would love for listeners of the album to come away reflecting on their own love story – both the ups and the downs  – and if it’s not going well she hopes the music will help them muster the courage to hang on. “I thought I was gonna die when I got divorced, I really did.  But I did not die. And now my life is better than I ever could have expected.”

To get the project funded, she turned to a Go Fund Me effort on social media, which also led to some self-reflection. “It took me a year to decide to do that because I was so scared,” she said.  “I felt so uncomfortable. It’s hard to ask for money like that.”  What eventually convinced her to try was a typical Debi Ruud solution. She started thinking of others. “I finally got to a place where I started to reverse it in my mind and thought, what if it was someone else who started a Go Fund Me to make a record and asked me to donate.  I would donate in a heartbeat and be glad to do it.”

It took eight months to raise the money, and one of the 1st contributors was long-time friend and Lost Souls bandmate, Ray Haney. “I contributed to Debi’s album for several reasons. I’ve helped dozens of regional artists with their projects. I know how hard it is to finish one. I’ve respected her voice for decades.” 

He went on to describe what it’s like working with her: “She embodies the highest qualities of professionalism – talented, prepared, quick to learn, open and flexible with change and new ideas. And the icing on the cake is her honestly and sweetness as a person.”

The project was produced by Debi’s long-time friend and high school classmate, Phil Sillas, who had helped her produce her 1st album some 20 years ago. He was also a catalyst in getting this latest process started by telling her, “Deb, we have to do another album before we turn 60.”

Now a successful producer and songwriter based on the Central Coast, Sillas brought in a group of studio musicians from Nashville and Los Angles to perform on this album – which at first was a little disconcerting for Debi, “The only person I knew was my daughter who sang with me on one song,” 

The final result of all this work and decision making is a very finely crafted and soft-spoken melodic tour through the ins and outs of love, seamlessly guided by Debi’s heartfelt renderings of the tunes she so carefully selected.

*NOTE* The album is available for purchase on iTunes, Spotify and at the Fresno Music Academy & Arts: 1296 N. Wishon Ave. in Fresno’s Tower District