The winners of 20 Washington Area Music Awards since their 1997 debut, the eclectic trio Ruthie and the Wranglers incorporates elements of folk, surf and old-fashioned honk with a touch of rockabilly into their fourth release. At the heart of their sound is the entertaining contrast between singer-songwriter Ruthie Logsdon and multi-instrumental wizard Phil Mathieu.
Logsdon's folkie, winsome vocal style plays well off barroom honky-tonk piano of "Tell 'Em What They Oughta" and the coy, sensual allusions of "Dirty Little Secrets." Better are her vocal collaborations with bassist Greg Hardin on the clever Dan Hicks-inspired "Lost Ball in High Weeds" and "I Say Tomato." As a songwriter, the Connecticut-born Logsdon is at her best establishing poignant poetic word play as in the philosophic "If a Heart Breaks" and the romantic denials of "I Don't Wanna Know."
The band's goofier side - one that probably goes over particularly well in clubs - is represented by Mathieu's two instrumentals. "Surftillicus," a Los Straightjackets knock-off, and the moody beach noir of "Catwalk," demonstrates Mathieu's remarkable instrumental flair and sports a richer sonic blend than the band's tunes. The result is sure to please listeners who dig their songs of heartache tempered by quirky humor and deft instrumental flash. (7004 Westmoreland Ave., Takoma Park, MD 20912)