Last year, Ricky went into the studio with Gregor Philp and Lewis Gordon to record a new solo album. He describes it as 'a modern folk album about the helplessness we all felt as governments signed off billions to protect the banks and institutions, and then sat back and watched as normal people lost everything.' Ricky began writing ‘Trouble Came Looking’ as the wheels started to fall off the economy. Set against a backdrop of global economic recession, the record’s raw, acoustic tales of poverty, displacement and desperation herald Ross’s starkest and most urgent work to date. But its tales of poverty, displacement and desperation are imbued with the warmth and resilience of human nature. Like folk songs, they recount tales without resolving them, yet they’re never bleak, and they’re rarely downbeat. (They can’t afford to be). Ross alludes to the psalms, to a “cry in the dark”, and shows that sometimes we don’t so much need an answer as a voice.
He says of Trouble Came Looking: “I wanted to tell these people’s stories, to lay them down, without anything getting in the way. The songs are rough round the edges, they’re barely written. I’ve never done that before.” Trouble Came Looking’s lyrics and music reinforce its social climate of scarcity, necessity and lack of choice – from its first-person narratives to its stirring, pared-back arrangements, as cannily augmented by Philp (guitar, banjo, mandolin) and Lewis Gordon (double bass). “There’s no backing vocals, no extra instrumentation. And I wrote most of the songs on guitar, on the only two chords I know,” laughs Ross. “I wanted to tell the stories, to lay them down, without anything getting in the way.”
The album, he says, almost wrote itself. “When I started it, I realised that it’s not possible to tell this story in one song – you have to tell the different sides of it. So the first few tracks became stories of people having trouble upon trouble visited upon them,” he says of ‘Trouble Came Looking’, ‘Now I Smoke, Like I Used To Pray’ and ‘Any Drug Will Do’. “Then came ‘The Fear’ and ‘Good Man’, where I wanted something that jars a bit, that’s a bit more violent-sounding: that you can’t just let wash over you.”
There are also undulating hymns about dislocation (‘How Will the Heart Survive’) and the Morecambe Bay cockle-pickers (‘A Strange and Foreign Land’, which rebounds in the bruised Americana of ‘Nothing More Than Travelling Now’). At the heart of the album is ‘Sang O’ The Saracen Maid’, a poem by Craig Smillie, based on a centuries-old parable, which Ross revisits as a glorious folk ballad. “It’s a beautifully written story of cruelty which casts a long shadow over the characters on this record,” he reflects.
Ross has rediscovered his sense of direction, but his songs remain close to his heart – from a chorale inspired by his daughter’s resolve to beat human trafficking (‘We Shall Overcome The Whole Wide World’) to familial swansong, ‘Holy Night’. “I was listening to Billy Bragg the other day, and he was saying that for all that people associate him with social struggles, the biggest struggles in his life are domestic. I think that’s true for everyone,” Ross suggests. “It’s hard, but if you can keep everyone happy, keep your family together, you’re doing well.” And so it is that Trouble Came Looking concludes with ancestral petition ‘Holy Night’. It’s a heartfelt reminder that all we can really do is keep going; that all we have is each other; that while Ross has repossessed his social bearings, his true north still points to home.
The tracklisting is:
The album is due for release on Edsel records on April 8th.
You can pre-order Trouble Came Looking from Amazon now.