Standing Still, the serenely stunning and incredibly intimate album by Nashville songbird Ruby Amanfu, will be released via Thirty Tigers / Rival & Co Records on August 28th. Ruby, backed by a six-piece band, created Standing Still in just five days, recording and living in a secluded log cabin in the rolling hills of Tennessee. Upon arrival at the cabin, producer Mark Howard (Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris) strategically set up guitar and organ amps in bedrooms, bathrooms, closets and the basement, while Ruby set the stage, creating a mystical atmosphere for her performance by lighting candles and burning incense. The band formed a semi-circle in the living room and Standing Still reflects that intimacy. The entire album was recorded live, without bells, whistles or ProTools. “I felt at ease with my feet on those wood floors, gazing out those windows to the forest while I sang,” Ruby remembers. “It was simply nature and it was simply music – both in their purest forms. All that was left to do was breathe.”
Standing Still consists mainly of deep cuts by an eclectic array of songwriters and artists, songs that span a century of music history, from Woody Guthrie to Kanye West. Standing Still includes Ruby’s staggering take on Irma Thomas’s 1964 soul gem, “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)”, British cult hero Richard Hawley’s “As the Dawn Breaks” and Bob Dylan’s heart wrenching “Not Dark Yet”. With Kanye’s deep cut “Streetlights”, Ruby flips hip- hop on its head, transforming the song from a rap dirge into a gorgeous waltz. Patrick Carney of the Black Keys dropped by the log cabin on Day 3 and produced “Shadow on the Wall”, a song written by folk-pop songstress Brandi Carlile. Standing Still closes with Ruby’s own gorgeous composition, “I Tried”. “Everything came together so quickly,” says Ruby. “We came up with the concept and the vibe and the songs and then just went and did it.”
Ruby Amanfu was born in Ghana, and her tight-knit family moved to Nashville when Ruby was just three. Ruby soaked up the sounds of Music City, and it wasn’t long before the town took notice of her incredible gift. Standing Still centers around Ruby’s ethereal and versatile voice, which has been garnering her critical acclaim since the third grade, when she crushed her classmates at the annual talent show and won the grand prize: a pack of 10 gumballs. By age fifteen Ruby was the youngest member of the Nashville Symphony Chorus as well as writing and recording her own material. Soon she was half of Sam & Ruby, whose 2009 album, The Here And The Now, was named Associated Press’s Album of the Year, and is considered a landmark in Nashville’s thriving pop scene. And Ruby has always been a first call as a studio vocalist, collaborating with artists as diverse as Kelly Clarkson, Jason Isbell, Norah Jones, Brittany Howard, Ben Folds, Hozier, Joy Williams, Jakob Dylan, Buddy Miller, Butch Walker, Alison Mosshart, Ann Wilson, Patti LaBelle and Wanda Jackson. In 2011, Ruby was hand-picked by Jack White to be his singing partner on his first solo album Blunderbuss. Their duet, “Love Interruption”, became Jack’s first hit as a solo artist, and Jack and Ruby performed an incendiary version of “Love Interruption” live at the 2013 Grammys.
In November of 2013, Ruby’s life and career took an unexpected turn. “I was performing at a benefit show called Dylan Fest in New York City, and I sang a Dylan song called ‘Not Dark Yet,’” she remembers. “The lyrics are so beautiful and poignant. They resonated with me, especially at that particular time in my life, and quite honestly, left me onstage in tears.” Ruby’s performance electrified the packed house, (which included Patrick Carney) and earned her a rapturous five-minute ovation. “It was a moment that I will never, ever, forget,” Ruby says, “I saw tears on peoples’ faces in the crowd, much like my own. And the next night, at the second Dylan Fest, I performed the song again and it happened then, too. It was, like, the most wonderful kind of déjà vu.”
After that show, Ruby huddled with the band and the producers of the show and a plan was hatched to regroup and make an album as soon as possible. “The idea was to choose a bunch of amazing, obscure songs that really fit what I was feeling at the time, and could sing like they were my own, and put them through the prism of myself with this band,” says Ruby, who is also a Grammy-nominated songwriter, for her song “Heaven’s My Home.” “I’d originally planned to release an album of all of my own songs, but sometimes the universe just leads you where you’re not expecting to go. Besides, all the greats have made albums of other peoples’ songs. From Aretha, to Emmylou, even Dylan. I felt I could follow in that tradition. I felt I had something to contribute.”
Legendary music man Mark Howard, who has worked with Daniel Lanois on landmark albums like Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind, Willie Nelson’s Teatro and Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball, was brought on board to engineer and produce, and Ruby collaborated with Standing Still’s co-producer (and Dylan Fest founder) Austin Scaggs on an eclectic list of songs to record.
“Every lyric I sang meant the world to me,” she says. “The five days we spent in the cabin making Standing Still feel like a dream…but it wasn’t just a dream, and we have the album to prove it.”