Ruby Vroom

Soul Coughing

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Ruby Vroom Review

by Sean Westergaard

Ruby Vroom was one of the great debut albums of the '90s. It was an invigorating, refreshing blend of relentlessly funky beats and downtown beatnik hipster and jazz sensibilities that came around when grunge was the order of the day. Despite the hip-hop/funk heroics of the rhythm section (Sebastian Steinberg on upright bass and Yuval Gabay on drums), M. Doughty's funky white-boy pose came less from hip-hop than the rhythms and cadences of the performance poetry scene. He can be introspective and yearning, as in "True Dreams of Wichita" or "Janine," and has a feel for cinematic description, but more often delivers with the sly wink of a real smart ass. Also, his performance-poetry background means his phrasing and timing are impeccable. Doughty's guitar playing is quite spare, but careful listening will reveal more buried in the mix. The secret weapon of the band, and what really sets them apart is the keyboard/sampler playing of Mark de Gli Antoni. He not only set the bar for sampler players in the pop world, but in the decade since Ruby Vroom was released, no one has even come close to his mixture of inventiveness and musicality. Everything from creaking doors, buses, and sampled trombone solos to Raymond Scott and Tori Amos (!) provide elements and atmosphere, not to mention the genius pairing of Howlin' Wolf and the Andrews Sisters on "Down to This." He can also lay in jazzy piano chords and musically punctuates Doughty's musings with wonderful, unplaceable sounds. Production is clean and crisp, with rich, deep bass and taut drum sounds, while de Gli Antoni's samples often make the band seem much larger than it really is (the band had no problem duplicating the sound live, by the way). There isn't a bad song on here; it's their best album top to bottom, and it still sounds fresh ten years down the road. Excellent.

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