Watch your cares go up in smoke/As we kick back yeah, take it slow,” Sam and Ruby sing on “Chillin’,” a track off their debut album, The Here and the Now.
Those lyrics and the song sum up the album’s mood, which is intimate and “down home,” as if recorded in a home studio. If Babyface ever recorded a folk rock album, it might sound a lot like The Here and the Now.
With a cornucopia of folk, country, rock, and a touch of R&B, the couple demonstrates their varied backgrounds on this album. As Blogcritics writer Clayton Perry stated in his recent interview with the duo, Ruby Amanfu was born in Ghana but eventually settled in Nashville, where she met partner Sam Cooper, a Wisconsin-born singer/songwriter. The unlikely pairing produced a smooth, eclectic sound that permeates their freshman effort.
Standout tracks include “Sarah,” which allows Ruby to show off her blusier vocals; more of her sassy delivery would have made the album more varied in mood. “Ain’t Love Somethin’” is strong lyrically as well as musically; the lyrics simply describe all facets of love. Sam takes the lead on the track, but Ruby provides pretty and laid-back harmonies. The lyrics and chord changes capture the listener’s attention, and Sam’s guitar work adds to the intimate, simple quality of the tune.
Interestingly, “Heaven’s My Home” was featured in the recent film The Secret Life of Bees, and it is the one of the more effective tracks on the album. Using spare arrangements, Cooper’s gentle strumming of his guitar, and a soft, thumping beat, giving the song an otherworldly quality. Essentially the track draws heavily from gospel, as is particularly evident in the chorus: “When I die/Please don’t cry/’Cause heaven’s my home anyhow.” The song gradually builds to a crescendo, with a choir joining Sam and Ruby at the end.
“More” exemplifies the intimate and spare arrangements on the album, with just a cello and piano accompanying the duo. Sam and Ruby exchange their lines as if engaging in dialogue, an interesting approach to chronicling both sides of a relationship.
Other songs that illustrate Sam and Ruby’s varied talents include “This I Know,” which contains pretty chord changes and smooth harmonizing by Sam and Ruby. “Too Much” sounds somewhat reminiscent of Van Morrison, with its soulful horns and folk/rock sound. Finally, “The Suitcase Song” nods to Sam’s Midwestern roots, and Ruby proves she can handle country vocals as well as soul. Sam also indulges in country in “Need Me Less,” on which he sings the majority of the vocals and spotlights the fiddle in the instrumental section.
Two songs seem likely candidates for country and possibly soft-rock radio. “Won’t Let You Go” fuses rock and folk fluidly, as does the aforementioned “Chillin,’” one of the very few uptempo numbers on The Here and the Now.
Sam and Ruby clearly possess a talent for merging various musical genres, and Ruby’s clear, delicate voice nicely complements Sam’s strong, country-tinged vocals. While the album’s overall calming mood makes for pleasant listening, it would be interesting to hear the duo explore rock and soul roots a bit more on future releases. “Sarah” shows how they can convincingly play the blues, and proves that Ruby should utilize her sassy delivery on more cuts. Varying The Here and the Now’s tone would make the listening experience even more interesting.
Fans of folk, country, and rock should heed Ruby’s invitation to “sit with me on the porch,” as she sings on the album’s title track, and sample Sam and Ruby’s smooth sounds.