I love all sorts of music genres. As long as the artists move me, I’ll listen. But, as my wife will tell you (probably while rolling her eyes), I have a particular obsession with traditional country and the blues. No surprise, then, that I love Ruby Jane’s music.
At just seventeen years old, Ruby Jane has been writing and performing traditional county music for almost a decade. She’s won prestigious fiddling competitions and toured with Willie Nelson. She played the Grand Ole Opry when she was ten years old. What were you doing when you were ten? Yeah, me too.
I believe in genius, but not in the sense that someone is a “natural” or has “God-given” talent. To me, geniuses are people obsessed with something to the point where they devote most of their time to it. They work harder than regular folks. They put the same amount of work in as anyone else, they just cram it into a shorter time span. To call it all a gift is to forget all the hard work these people put into getting where they are. In this sense, Ruby Jane is a genius. And if you like country fiddlin’ and blues wailin’ then you’re gonna dig her music.
Her first album, Creekside, came out in 2007, when she was all of thirteen years old. You can definitely hear a kid singing, trying to find her voice. Perhaps because of this, three of the six songs on the album are instrumentals. But, whoopee! What instrumentals! The first track, “Soldier’s Joy,” is an old-time Appalachian fiddle standard. Takes you back before any of us, even some of our grandparents, were born. “Cripple Creek” is another great instrumental. It’s a bluegrass tune with fiddle and acoustic guitar dueling for the lead while a banjo strums softly in the background. Of the three songs with lyrics, “Smoke in my Eyes” is a particular favorite of mine. The song’s rhymes are simple, but it’s also a fairly sophisticated take on love gone wrong. Catchy song, too.
While Creekside is unmistakably country, her next album, Feels Like Home, has strong blues influences. Ruby Jane found her voice and it’s blues wailin’ at its finest. Except for the fiddling, the title track would perfectly on an anthology of modern blues. The only instrumental track on the album, “Minor Swing,” is a rare up-tempo number. Most of the songs are slower, letting Ruby Jane take her time while she croons about lost love and longing. The song, “Beautiful You, Happy Me,” is almost a jazz tune. You feel like snapping your fingers. “Soap Song” is a foot-tapping tune. Ruby Jane even goes a bit into outlaw territory with the song “Pitter Patter,” a song about a man locked away in jail, pining for his woman at home. That Ruby Jane is able to sing convincingly in the voice of someone far removed from her personal experience is a testament to her versatility.
With “Waltzin’,” the final song on the album, we return to the blues. It’s a pretty song about a lonely wife who finds solace in dancing after her husband leaves her. It’s a fitting final song and a real tribute to the healing power of music.
Feels Like Home is about thirty minutes long. It feels like a sample of things to come. Ruby Jane has plenty of time ahead of her and I’m sure she’ll continue putting out great music. It’s exciting to think that she has her best work ahead of her. Because I’m sure she’ll continue making music for the rest of her life. She can’t help it. Geniuses never retire. They always have something more to say.