By Jesii Dee
"Ruby Amanfu, how have I not known you before?" A question that some might be asking as they listen to her latest release, the impeccable record, Standing Still. By way of Nashville, she has been a songwriting and performer since childhood. She has performed with the likes of some of the greats: from Patti LaBelle, Bob Dylan, Jack White - she was a major contributor to his first solo record, and as one half of the duo Sam & Ruby. This all lead to her being able to create a record that might be all deep cut covers, but you'd never know it at first (unless you know one of the songs of course).
This record is a lovely woven tapestry of velvety vocals and impassioned lyrics, layered with complex and clean instrumentals. There is a strong country undercurrent with jazz and world music sounds collected on top. It clearly showcases Amanfu's vast musical talents and influences. I wish more pop records had the depth that this one does, we'd all be better off.
The lead track, "Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)," starts out those sweet vocals, declaring that age old sentiment that even when you love is not the best, as their lover, you see things differently. It's a melody and lyrically driven song, that builds from the soft whisper to a dramatic finish, perfectly illustrates what's to come on the record.
One of my favorite songs is the forth track, "Shadow On The Wall," originally by Brandi Carlile, just gave me goose bumps. Amanfu's voice is that of a strong woman in the midst of heartbreak, and absolutely captures the energy and desperation of the song. The next track, "Out at Sea," sends her vocals into a higher register where she shines brilliantly. I am biased toward her cover of the song "Cathedrals," a smooth and haunting ballad, as it's a song I had on repeat when I was in NYC as a teenager, unsure of my own future. It's a MUST listen. The track that inspired the entire record, "Streetlights," shows off her vocal dynamics; whispering, pleading, and reflective. The lone track penned by Amanfu is the last one, "I Tried," which pleads its case for patience and compassion in a relationship. Her vocals are interwoven with light and ambient sounds, creating a nicely illustrated capstone to the record.
Devoid of the synth-bass combo that overshadows every top song out there today, this is an album for grown-ups. It serves as a great reminder that songwriting isn't a lost art, and that in the right hands, can transform into something truly magical.