I can’t keep track of how many times I’ve bought an entire album based on liking just one song I’d heard on it. It really doesn’t bother me to have albums on my iTunes that I haven’t listened to all the way through, because I know I’ll get there eventually. Sometimes, I end up really loving the album and keeping it, and other times, I’ll end up deciding the rest of the CD is crap, and deleting the songs other than the one I bought the CD for. It’s always a fun experience, though, and that was how I came across Sam & Ruby’s full-length album, The Here and The Now.
Sam Brooker and Ruby Amanfu first became friends in Nashville, Tennessee in 1999. Amanfu (whom was born in Ghana) has been in the music business for some time; she first got her start writing music for other artists, including Kelly Clarkson, Justin Guarini, and Rachel Lampa, and singing backup (most notably for Jack White’s recent solo album). Brooker mainly stuck to the Nashville scene, but in 2005, the friends reconnected and decided to tour together and eventually released two EPs and an album. They no longer perform as a duo, but in 2011, the two of them were featured as part of a group of Nashville vocalists on NBC’s a cappella competition, The Sing Off.
The Here and The Now is a collection of upbeat, acoustic folk/pop/rock music. Amanfu and Brooker take turns as lead vocalists and wrote and produced all the songs on the album. The result is light-hearted, pleasant music- the kind of stuff you’d want to put on in the evening while relaxing with a glass of wine.
Mellow guitar introduces What Do I Do Now, the first song on the album. Amanfu sings the opening verse, and her husky vocals are instantly warm and inviting. Brooker (who sings the second verse) has a smooth tone, and together, their voices blend perfectly, creating an upbeat pop/rock song. Amanfu is also responsible for a cello solo that magically appears during a break, and the song has a perfect breezy, laid-back sound that always makes me think of a cool, summer night.
Lead single, This I Know, appears next and is the song that hooked me on the album. Again, the track opens with light acoustic guitar, before fading into an extremely catchy chorus. I remember the first time I heard this song on Pandora- I stopped whatever I was doing and just listened, because of the harmonies in the chorus. Amanfu takes up the majority of the high notes, but Brooker also holds his own with a beautiful falsetto, and together, their harmonies are absolutely stunning. Lyrically, the track is a typical love song, but the unforgettable melody is really the charm here more than anything else.
More takes a departure from the guitar and upbeat melodies, and instead presents itself as an understated piano ballad. Brooker and Amanfu take turns singing on the duet about wanting more out a relationship (“I need more than you have to give/I need more than a casual dating life/I need more than a kiss or two a week/I need more than a long goodbye at night”) and the emotional lyrics ring honest and true to anyone who’s been in a similar situation. Again, the harmonizing in the chorus is spot-on and sometimes I listen to this song just to hear how well their voices mesh together. Meanwhile,Heaven’s My Home Now, is a pretty country-tinged ballad (which was actually on the soundtrack for the 2008 movie, The Secret Life of Bees) and is another song on the album that holds beautiful, emotive lyrics (“When I die/Please don’t cry/‘Cause heaven’s my home anyhow”).
The majority of the album follows the same acoustic guitar/breezy melody/lush harmony formula. That’s definitely not a bad thing, though, because Amanfu and Brooker have found their niche, and they perform in it well. Sarah sounds reminiscent of Jason Mraz, but Amanfu’s vocal delivery in the chorus is spunky and fun, giving the track some zest. The Suitcase Song is a sentimental story that compares someone’s personality with an actual suitcase. The melancholy mood fits in with the lyrics, but the restrained sound makes the song easy to overlook. The title track opens with the lines, “Come sit with me on the porch, where we last had a fight” and sets the mood for another song about love and heartache. Again, it’s the complex harmonies in the refrain which make the song as delightful as it is.
The rest of the songs on the album are nice to listen to, but ultimately a bit unremarkable- the kind of thing you’d likely hear at a Starbucks and maybe smile to while sipping on your Caramel Macchiato, but nothing you’d rush home to download later that evening.
The last song on the disc, Ain’t Love Somethin’ features bluesy guitar and a more soulful sound than some of the other tracks on the album. This is one of the few songs where the Nashville influence is more evident, and Brooker and Amanfu sound as good together as a glass of sweet tea and a slice of pumpkin’ pie! Or, you know…some other Southern euphemism.
Though there’s nothing revolutionary on The Here and the Now, Sam & Ruby have still created an extremely enjoyable album. The standout moments on the album may be few, but the rest of is the disc is likeable and easy on the ears.
1. What Do I Do Now
2. This I Know
3. Too Much
6. The Suitcase Song
7. Won’t Let You Go
8. Need Me Less
9. Heaven’s My Home
10. The Here and the Now
12. Ain’t Love Something