Sam and Ruby
Sam and Ruby
Official Biography (courtesy of ThinkTank Marketing)
Nashville-based duo Sam & Ruby gently blend R&B, folk and pop into a sound so immediately warm and welcoming that falling in love with their debut album is a foregone conclusion. Ruby Amanfu boasts a sophisticated, soulful voice with gospel-like conviction. It beautifully complements Sam Brooker's relaxed, confident approach, his voice balanced somewhere between the bar room and the back porch. They aim to reach both the head and the heart and a few other parts as well: 'The Here and the Now' will surely inspire more than a few couples to get up and dance close and slow, wherever and whenever they happen to be listening.
That Sam & Ruby have succeeded so brilliantly, and so seemingly effortlessly, is a tribute to their talent and chemistry - and to the sometimes felicitous role fate plays in music and in life.
Recalling that moment, almost a decade ago, when she first heard Sam perform, Ruby says, "I saw Sam before Sam saw me. I walked into this club and Sam was playing. It took me about 2.2 seconds before I thought, I want some of that. I felt really lucky and blessed to be there that night. I had been brought there by mutual friends, so we talked afterwards and I basically said, â€˜let's hang out.'"
"That was the beginning," says Sam. "We became friends. In Nashville it's so normal that everyone plays music, so that was always part of the deal. Then I got to see Ruby do a show and she just blew me away. Part of it was that we would go to each other's shows and cheer each other on. We were fans of one another's music."
Ruby, who was born in Ghana, has spent most of her life in Nashville. Her father, a computer scientist, was recruited by a Tennessee-based firm, and he moved his family to Nashville when she was just three. As she recalls, "When I got here, I remember taking walks with my dad, just me and him, and I would be singing little songs about the flowers we'd see or I'd be singing on my parent's coffee table when their friends would come over. Nashville was a great place to nurture this thing I had in me all along."
Her parents were devout Christians and sheltered Ruby from secular music: "I was only allowed to listen to Christian and classical music. Even jazz was too progressive for my parents at the time. But, I've always been writing, I've always had it in me, it was my first love. When I was ten, my best friend gave me Madonna's Like a Prayer and it really opened up my world. The way Madonna was writing -- this was not something I'd ever known. The funny thing was, within myself I knew that was also how I wrote, and this was the first songwriting I'd come into contact with that was similar to what I wanted to do. I thought, this exists!"
Meanwhile, Sam was growing up under very different circumstances in Green Bay, Wisconsin: "James Taylor was probably the biggest hero in our household, but then my brother had all this funk stuff - Parliament, Bootsy's Rubber Band, Prince." Sam formed a band in high school and, by the time he'd finished college, it was practically a career: "We just became a full-on bar band. We were the band in Green Bay, Milwaukee, playing weddings, all that stuff. But I always felt, is this it? Is this what I want to do? We were making good money and the college crowd party atmosphere made for good times. I made a contact in Nashville after getting a CD manufactured down there. The guy from the company called me and said, â€˜Your CD sucks but we like your voice. Would you like to come down and record in our studio and get a little better demo?' That was my first taste of Nashville. Seeing that, and just feeling the energy here, I decided right away, this is where I needed to be."
It would still be several years before Sam & Ruby officially became a duo. Sam left Nashville for New York City to work as a solo artist, sticking it out until after the September 11th attacks. Ruby released a solo album, 'Smoke and Honey' in the UK, which reached Top Five on the British pop charts with a song called, "Sugah". Just as Ruby should have been savoring this success, record label snafus left her high and dry in Nashville. That's about when Sam came back into town. So they combined their complementary talents, and the track "The Here And The Now" was born, laying the foundation for a deeply creative partnership. "That song became a staple of our individual shows," adds Sam. "If I had a gig, I would invite Ruby up to sing and if she had a show, she'd invite me. We had that one song and people really started responding. We heard the word magical a lot. We knew it too, writing the song and singing the harmonies, we thought, this is something special."
A chance to perform at the 2005 South By Southwest music festival in Austin officially made the pair into a duo. A year later they were invited to play at Voodoo Music Experience in New Orleans where they also decided to record an EP that would contain, in more rudimentary form, some of the tracks that would eventually make their way onto their debut full length. They cut, mixed and mastered everything in a one-bedroom apartment, but the quality of the material and the performances eclipsed the no-frills circumstances of the recording. That EP led to a publishing deal, access to better recording facilities and, finally, to a deal with Rykodisc. In between, Ruby co-wrote "Heaven's My Home", a Tracy Chapman-like tune with an inspirational twist that has taken on an extraordinary life of its own. First, Canadian country-folk band the Duhks garnered a Grammy nomination for their rendition of it. More recently an early version by Sam & Ruby was featured in the Queen Latifah-starring film, The Secret Life Of Bees. Now Sam & Ruby have reclaimed this deeply stirring tune - which features a soaring, sing-along choir -- for their debut album, 'The Here and The Now'. In a way it encapsulates the various moods on the album, from heartache ("More") to hopefulness ("Ain't Love Something") to a kind of clear-eyed romanticism ("The Here and the Now"). The arrangements are beautifully understated, relying on acoustic and electric guitars, brushes of percussion, the occasional string section, and, above all, those two intertwining voices.
"We want people to feel it like we feel it," says Ruby.
Finding each other by happenstance, Sam & Ruby sound like they were always meant to sing together -- and we're lucky enough to be around to hear.