Ruby Amanfu has been around the Nashville music scene since she could sing but getting noticed is never easy. Releasing some quality songs with Sam Brooker as Sam & Ruby and competing on The Sing-Off gave her a little exposure, however it was playing the foil to Jack White on the emotional “Love Interruption” that really broke open her career.
Now on Standing Still, Amanfu takes the spotlight and owns it, projecting various vocal styles through a wide range of covers. Immediately greatness is achieved as she reinterprets “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)” a track made famous by the irrepressible Irma Thomas. Amanfu’s version keeps the heartbreak of Thomas but raises the emotional stakes to breathtaking heights via a lush soulful beginning, huge climax and almost whispering vocals to close; a take-your-breath-away rendition of the classic.
Standing Still came about when engineer Mark Howard was sent a video of Ruby singing a show stopping version of Bob Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet” from a NYC Dylan Tribute. Howard, who worked with Daniel Lanois on the original, was enamored and signed her up right away. Having been in the Bowery Ballroom on that night I can personally attest that was the moment of a show filled with a few. Her recreation of the Dylan number on Standing Still is a knockout as well.
Those two covers alone are enough to recommend the album but the hits keep coming from a wide variety of areas. Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s “Where You Going” has an excellent mix of bass, drums and chimes while “As The Dawn Breaks” by Richard Hawley is simple and delicate allowing Amanfu’s voice to breathe excellence without restraint.
“Out At Sea” by The Heartless Bastards is one of the few covers that doesn’t mesh well here, while Amanfu has made a revisit to Kanye West’s “Street Lights” a must as she adds a warmth to the 808s & Heartbreak track Yeezus could never muster. The gospel placed into Wilco’s (via Woody Guthrie) “One By One” moves things along swimmingly before Amanfu’s only original “I Tried” ends the album. The haunting energy of Brandi Carlile’s “Shadow on the Wall” is an excellent showcase for Ruby’s talents and when she sings “I will make no sound at all” listeners everywhere should be grateful that she went against that feeling and created Standing Still, an album that should help make her a star.