When speaking about pure, raw musical talent, there may not be a better specimen in the entire music world than violin player, and singer-songwriter Ruby Jane from Austin, TX. To know the girl is to know this to be true, and when she was tested on the road as part of Willie Nelson’s Family Band and Ray Benson’s Texas Swing outfit Asleep At The Wheel at the ripe age 14, Ruby proved herself to packed audiences night after night.
But raw talent can be hard to tame, hard to take from stage right to stage center, and hard to shape into a transferable commodity in 2013. Talent is no longer enough. There’s no collective will to put the best and brightest of society on a pedestal. And as the years tick towards an 18th birthday, the wonder a prodigy can evoke begins to diminish and originality must rise up to fill the void.
The most difficult time for a child music prodigy is that transition into musical adulthood. Ruby Jane, who’s now 19-years-old and graduated from High School, had big promises and bigger hopes of being backed by one big industry outfit or another that seemed to show up and fade throughout her career. You’d be a fool not to recognize the talent, but what to do with it? Where does it fit in the music world?
Then the mother of all bad luck scenarios played out on December 8th, 2011 in Houston, TX when Ruby and her mother were carjacked, held at gunpoint, had everything taken from them including all of Ruby’s music gear and merch and their phones and ID’s, and left on the side of the road in the middle of the night to fend for themselves.
But the world must keep turning, and in the aftermath of the tragedy, Ruby recorded an album called Celebrity (Empire of Emptiness). Though the theme and moral was spot on, and there were certainly shimmers of the superlative Ruby Jane talent we all knew was there, the album seemed to showcase a violin maestro trying to find her voice, both figuratively and literally, and the album had a foggy aspect to the final mixes, like it was hindered by a lack of good process. For some, the album spoke to them. But it seemed to fall short of the promise of what the world-class talent of Ruby Jane could achieve.
Celebrity (Empire of Emptiness) also solidified Ruby Jane’s departure from anything “country.” And who could blame her? With all that talent, why would you she want to be lumped in with the Florida Georgia Line’s of the world? Ruby’s talent is too great to be confined to one genre, but the departure meant the diminishing of the skins she had assembled during touring with Willie, being the youngest invited fiddler to ever play the Grand Ole Opry stage, and her other country accolades. It wasn’t that these accomplishments didn’t mean anything anymore, it’s that they just didn’t mean as much to the new music spheres she was now entering.
Meanwhile Austin did what Austin does, which is offer the safest of havens for any artist who can show promise and talent, while generally failing to develop or nurture that talent beyond the city limits, especially in days that have seen the epicenter of independent music shift demonstrably toward Nashville, while Austin seems to be precariously hanging onto its musical lineage as condominium complexes and hipsters encroach on Austin’s heart, and it’s traditional musical infrastructure focuses less on developing talent, and more on serving a wealthy elite.
But no matter how the deck is stacked, you would be a fool to bet against the talent of Ruby Jane. Despite all the hardships, the violin and the spirit preservers, and being a Ruby Jane follower, you inherently hold on to a sense that it is simply a matter of time before all the stars align and Ruby Jane’s ship comes in.
Not attached to an announcement of a new album or any other notable news, Ruby Jane has released a new single and a new video called “Ticket Out.” Written by Ruby, and produced by Mario Marchetti who’s worked with The Lumineers and some other notable names from the the pop world in the past, “Ticket Out” evokes a Lumineers-esque vibe with a heavy, woody bass beat and hand claps, but is centered mostly around the chorus hook “I’ll be your ticket it out of town” that grips the listener and sets a fun, positive mood in a song that has great energy and momentum.
Some may feel like the song is a little too simple, but Ruby’s violin is given its moments to shine and offer substance to the song, and Ruby’s songs have always been a tale of two approaches: Mind-blowing, composition-based, deftly-constructed instrumental pieces, and lighthearted singer-songwriter material.
The video, directed by Nyle Emerson, captures a day in the life of Austin’s young, hip culture, with a curly-mustached protagonist trying to shake his angst by courting a flame-haired food trailer chef on a trek to a swimming hole. With its still-shot animation, the “Ticket Out” video matches the mood and motion of the song and story, and illustrates great depth, attention, and heart.
Blame Willie Nelson, blame her Texas blood and her Mississippi spirit, but Ruby has always been an outlaw of sorts, wanting to do things her own way and carve her own path. But where good art can turn great is when an artist can see when their expressions can bloom and reach their full potential by getting other people involved, and people that have their best interests first. The Mario Marchetti collaboration on “Ticket Out” may not be the final solution to Ruby finding her place, or it might. We’ll just have to see. But it certainly is a step in the right direction.
I like it.
1 ¾ of 2 guns up. 4 of 5 stars.