Band defies labeling

Group: Ruthie and the Wranglers perform a mix of hodge-podge mix of rockabilly, bluegrass and honky-tonk.

April 01, 1999|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Ruth Logsdon traces her honky-tonk roots to an evening in front of the television. Growing up in Bethesda, her suburban experience didn't include evenings in truck stops, cowboys and livestock or going to dances in boots.

But there was Loretta Lynn on the Country Music Awards.

"I can remember my Dad saying she could really sing," said Logsdon, vocalist who is Ruthie in the Washington-based band Ruthie and the Wranglers. "I remember watching `Hee Haw' and thinking that stuff was so square. But when I decided to play music, I started playing this."

"This" refers to a hodge-podge mix of rockabilly, bluegrass, honky-tonk and just about anything else with a twang the group wants to throw in.

Radio programmers like to call the band's style "Americana." Visitors to the Ram's Head Tavern in Annapolis can slip on their cowboy boots and twirl with Ruthie and the Wranglers tomorrow night. Another band, the Grandsons, will join the four-piece Wranglers as they perform songs from their latest CD, "Life's Savings."

"I love them," said Jesse Scott, Americana editor of Gavin magazine, which tracks what songs and artists radio stations are playing nationwide.

The CD "Life's Savings" reached number 20 on the Gavin charts in January.

"They have great energy and passion and fun," Scott said. "Those three things embody what [Americana] music is about."

There's nothing too traditional about Ruthie or the Wranglers. Where country bands are often set up with at least one fiddler or a steel guitarist, the Wranglers carry the instruments of a rock band: guitars, bass and drums.

Like Logsdon, all the band members grew up in and around Washington, and they came together from divergent musical paths.

Bassist Mark Noone was lead singer for the Washington area garage punk band the Slickee Boys anddrummer Joel App was known in blues circles. Lead guitarist Phil Mathieu has a classical and jazz background, having toured with Charlie Byrd as a member of the Washington Guitar Quintet.

Their lyrics aren't too traditional, either. While they sing the crying-in-my-beer, and forbidden love themes common to country music, they've also written the clever and playful "He's a Honky Tonk Man" about a fella headed for a sex change.

"The lyrics are left of center," sweet-voiced Logsdon said, laughing about the theme of the song. "I thought, there's a subject nobody's tackled in country music."

Logsdon's vocal style also brings distinction to the band. Last year she won the Washington Area Music Association's best female country vocalist, and the band won Best Country Group.

"She's got a lot of attitude," said Jon Grimson, president of Counterpoint Music which produces "This Week in Americana." an hourlong weekly radio program. "She's not out there with a timid voice or a necessarily technically trained voice.

"She takes a strong stance and that comes across. I think they're a band to watch."

Doors to the Ram's Head at 33 West Street open at 7 p.m. The show starts at 8: 30 p.m. The Ram's Head suggests guests purchase tickets in advance at the bar or by calling 410-268-4545 or 410-268-5111 as tickets may not be available at the door.

Pub Date: 4/01/99

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