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Sam and Ruby

Sam & Ruby

By Peter Cronin

Sam and Ruby: You've Got A Friend

With roots that run from West Africa to Wisconsin, and all the way back to Nashville, Sam Brooker & Ruby Amanfu are an unlikely duo even by Music City’s wide-open collaborative standards. As longtime contributors to the city’s thriving creative community, it’s not surprising that they met up at a local pub’s songwriter’s night. What surprised everybody – not least the artists themselves – was what happened when they sang together.

“Even though we’d been doing pop kind of stuff for our own solo careers, the musical background for both of us was this singer/songwriter folk side, that James Taylor/Carole King kind of stuff,” Brooker says. “We’ve been lucky to have this music find its way.”

The Here & The Now, Sam & Ruby’s debut release, is an arresting mix of razor-sharp hooks and laid back beats, all coalescing around an uncanny vocal interplay, with Brooker’s blue-eyed soulful tenor providing the perfect foil to Amanfu’s honeyed whisper.

“When we were recording a demo together, we would get confused over who was singing what,” Brooker explains. “’Were you singing that part or was it me?’ I do a lot of production and I never get confused over who’s singing what on a track. That just doesn’t happen. So this is something pretty special.”

The critics agree. Associated Press put the album on a 2009 “Top 10” list that included superstar artists like Norah Jones, Mariah Carey and Jay-Z. One of the album’s centerpiece songs, “Heaven’s My Home,” received a Grammy nomination when it was recorded by the Duhks back in 2007. More recently, Sam & Ruby’s version of the song was featured in the film, The Secret Life Of Bees.

As individual artists, both had built impressive pop resumes when they met. Brooker kept busy with production work and was making his way as a solo artist through two separate major label development deals, while Amanfu was making some serious noise overseas. Signed to Polydor UK, her single, “Sugah,” was a Top-5 dance floor hit that drew critical comparisons to everyone from Janet Jackson to Stevie Wonder.

But when Sam met Ruby, the full-blown pop production of their earlier work fell away to reveal something special and more organic. What started out as a vocal duet, grew – one song, one harmony at a time – into 13 timeless songs on The Here & The Now.

“From the first song we wrote, it was just effortless,” Brooker says. “Our driving force is that we really feel like this music needs to be heard. In a world of watered-down music, we feel like there’s something special here. It’s not showy, it’s not smoke and mirrors… it’s real.”

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