This Seattle-based band has been at it for 14 years and this new album from Ruby Dee & The Snakehandlers, Little Black Heart, is a definitive statement. Aside from the sheer joyfulness, sexiness and bawdiness of their rockabilly-meets-Memphis-meets-Americana-meets Western swing, et al twang, it’s got its serious side, as this is an album born of a near tragedy. Eight years ago, Ruby Dee had a devastating scooter accident that caused significant brain injury and trauma; she was, in many ways, forced to almost start over from scratch. It’s a testimony to her courage and willfulness to be able to regain the ability to write songs (let alone do everything else that was crucial to her life) and resume her “other” career (she’s been a successful restauranteur in Seattle as well). Recorded in Austin and kicking hard, this album sounds as raw as it feels in a great, natural way.
“Not For Long” announces the band with a drum roll that, indeed, kicks in a classic swing style, complete with sax punches, Gretsch-sounding reverbed twang, slap bass and a relationship gone wrong – easily, it could have been recorded in ’57, ’58 but never sounding forced or phony; “Can You Spare A Match?” goes more toward ’40’s jive but is upbeat and good-timey; “Put You Down” gallops along with a heavy, proper minor-chord bodied twang, with crisp acoustic guitars and a simple yet completely perfect solo. “I See Green” is a modern-sounding piece, poppy, yet countrified and as radio-friendly as the day is long (and one of the album’s standouts to me); the album’s title track has a dark edge to it; “Camille” is another of the pop-pier tracks, sad and sweet and “The Way I Walk” thunders along with a slinky, Cramps-like feel, which is another high mark.
Thirteen tracks and a lot to feast on. So sink your teeth into this meaty musical fest but get ready to be fattened up by what you hear.
Little Black Heart is available now