REVIEW: Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics – “State Of All Things”

Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics are back with a new album, titled State Of All Things. In the album, the band takes a step back from the day to day to take a look at the bigger picture, examining the carry on luggage of the inevitable passage of time, the tangled webs we form with the rest of humanity, and systemic injustices that have bumped priorities off course in the cosmic game of bocce. Hence the title. Throughout, Ruby Velle stuns with stellar vocals and the band brings the soul like that aunt that always brings the potato salad. And it is good.

Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics will be celebrating the upcoming release of State of All Things on March 24th at Terminal West with special guest Greyhounds!   The only place to pre-order Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics upcoming LP State of All Things is on PledgeMusic.  Preordering will also get you in the house to see live recordings of songs from the album, behind the scenes at their shows, rehearsals, any new studio recordings or meet & greets.  There is also a digital download of a special new track included with every exclusive offer on Pledge.

The first track has the same undertones as leather pants. It is suggestive and inviting and it knows how to get down. Ruby’s soul-dipped voice sings of a woman who destroys the lives of those around her, whilst staying within the limits of her comfort zone, unwilling to expose the underbelly of her sorrows with the very people who might care. When Ruby and her guys break it down, they really break it down. The guitar takes on a dirtier edge. When they break it down, it’s as if the walls of the room fall away and the only omnipresent being is Sound, [oh] holy Sound. This is a song I would very much like to hear out of doors. (The more extreme the location, the better.)

The title track plays with rhythm and diction in a way that could dry your polish and set your curls. Ruby sings of that blip on the Mandelbrot we happen to reside in, with a bemused recognition that the scale of our perception is changing all the time. Rocks turn to pebbles / trees turn to stone, she sings, over a bass and drums pairing that tumbles like the water through a stony New England stream.

Guitar warm like a good bagel warms the listener’s ears so Ruby can melt over them with her buttery vocals in “Way Back When.” The lyrics are calisthenics for the heart, reminiscing on an old love that was relinquished to time (among other factors), and eyeing it again like someone who has just returned from six months in India in the presence of a bacon cheeseburger. Teach me our history, lesson by lesson, Ruby croons, in a way that could make even the most spurned lover do what they’re told. “Way Back When” is the sort of song office workers daydream of singing at karaoke when they should be completing their expense reports. This track is delicate and deep, sultry and sweet.

“Loveless Blind” begins like a big entrance at the mash, but singed with surf sound. The song, about a one-sided relationship, explodes like fireworks in the chorus as Ruby sings expansively, He’s gotta find a love that’s blind, (putting a nice pop on the word blind) ‘Cause the one that he’s got only works in his mind. The track is upbeat; it sways, bops, and pops, leaving the listener with the hope that the subject of the song really will find the love he deserves. “Closed the Book” taps on your window to get your attention before undulating ahead. Ruby’s voice swims in a sea of bass, splashes of percussion, and shimmering horns. She sings with the air of a woman who wears fur on weeknights, never has to reapply her lipstick, and knows how to get what she wants (including revenge) with fire.

“Lost Lady USA” advances the album, asking Lost lady USA, where are you going with those dreams of ours? The band sings about the things that everyone is thinking but can’t seem to communicate with one another, with reference to the Flint water disaster. Ruby pronounces “USA” as a word rather than a collection of letters, not only personifying the country as a lady, but drawing a connection between the word “use” and USA. The song begs two questions: Who is using who? and To what means? If the horns are the dusting on sour cream and onion-flavored potato chips, the percussion is the green bits. Nevertheless, the music persists, pivoting from something relaxed and soul-driven to something a little spunkier. Give my dreams back to me / Give ‘em back to me, sing Ruby and the band. This is a song we all should be singing.

“Overwhelming” shifts the conversation to something a little more awesome and wondrous, with funky guitar and percussion that moves along like walking on the sidewalk without stepping on any cracks. The lyrics touch upon the wiggles of the universe, always vibrating and shifting within their four dimensions. Ruby produces every word of the verses with optimal precision, opening out into each chorus like swimming from the mouth of an underwater cave. As Ruby steps back, there is such enticing play between the bass and drums, the other instruments join in and the result is transcendental. (If only I were wearing white for this…) With jazzy flute and horns as warm as a pat on the back from a good friend, the band makes their point.

The opening beats of “Shakles” land hard, preparing the listener for an equally heavy conversation about race. The vocals are so powerful you could run a flashlight off their energy and still have some juice left over. Ruby sings of the persistent cultural restraints that continue to separate generations of individuals from their own infinite capabilities. The song hits heavy without getting too punchy, imparting the spirit of unswaying, heavy-lidded, dogged determinedness to continue on when you’ve just been punched in the gut and the odds are stacked against you. These shackles with time will rust and divide / The shackles with time can keep no man in line, sings Ruby, her voice soaring in the direction of liberty.

With an old-time guitar, dirty and delightful, “I Tried” is like the first straight, flat stretch of road after a long and winding ride. Ruby delivers the lyrics with a tougher than tougher than nails vocal attitude, singing of a relationship that just isn’t working. Her big voice goes head to head with the steady guitar; both of them stung along by the drums. From the first plodding drum beats to the final moan, “Used Me Again” evokes that rainy-night-at-a-coffeehouse feeling. This is the sort of song that turns heads when you hear it live. The sound is powered by keys like a slinky making its way down a staircase while Ruby steps into another world to deliver each line with an undressed, unhurried manner that serves to electrify and immerse the listener in the imagery of the lyrics. With lines like, You’re pulling strings I didn’t know I had / Unraveling that good in me and now I’m seeing red, Ruby sings of being manipulated, and this time, recognizing that it’s happening.

Crowning the album is “Call Out My Name,” a track that opens with otherworldly guitar and ephemeral percussion. Then, the electrochemical universe unites itself into a Swiss army knife of sorts, the percussion and bass synch, and a celebration of sound commences. The rhythm is fun like roller skating and the sound is big, shifting and adjusting as it progresses. The song left me wanting more Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics, but I suppose that’s what the Repeat All button is for.

It is amazing how so much sound – meaningful sound – can fit into a single album. State Of All Things is a meaty record that is worth ruminating on. Not only does the band serve up a series of hot, sizzling songs, but they prod at the most troubling social issues of our days. Atlanta is blessed to have Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics, and the rest of the world is fortunate to be able to hear the music that they put out.

Gwendolyn Lewis Written by:

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