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The rise of Sam & Ruby

Alisha Self, Of the Record staff

The acoustic folk/pop/soul duo Sam & Ruby is undeniably on the up-and-up. In the past six months alone, their debut record was named best album of the year by the Associated Press, they were handpicked by the Indigo Girls as their opening act, and, as of Wednesday, they played their first Sundance gig at the ASCAP Music Café.

But Sam Brooker and Ruby Amanfu aren’t trying to rush their rise to musical stardom. They’ve found that letting things happen naturally is the best way to go.

Amanfu was born in Ghana, Africa. At age 3, she moved to Nashville and fully immersed herself in the city’s singing and songwriting culture.

Brooker grew up in Green Bay, Wisc., and, following in his father’s footsteps, he began playing music as a teenager. He moved to Nashville in 1998 for the vibrant music scene. "Nashville is the place," he says. "It’s a songwriter hub. It’s that kind of world you just soak it in."

About a year after Brooker landed in Amanfu’s territory, the unlikely duo met at a songwriters’ gathering. At the time, Amanfu had a solo recording deal and Brooker had released his own album, which admittedly "sucked," he says.

Although the pair hit it off as friends, they didn’t actually collaborate until about three years after their initial meeting. In 2002, they penned their first song together, "The Here and the Now."

"We had no intentions of being Sam & Ruby at that point," Amanfu says. They performed the song at each other’s shows, but that was that.

A few more years went by before the idea to form their own group came to fruition. Amanfu was getting fed up with the ups and downs of the music industry, and she was on the cusp of taking a break when Brooker convinced her to try something new.

"[Sam] was the person to help me restore faith in it again," she says.

In the fall of 2006, the duo recorded six songs and crafted a self-titled EP within the span of 10 days in Brooker’s apartment. That was the impetus to ditch their solo projects for a newfangled and somewhat unusual twosome. "We decided we were going to do it whether or not anyone was behind us," Amanfu says.

Sam & Ruby’s EP struck a chord with industry professionals around Nashville and soon enough, Rykodisc came knocking with a record deal.

Last August, Sam & Ruby released their debut full-length album, "The Here and the Now." Although the title is drawn from their first song together, it’s also a fairly accurate description of where they are and always want to be. They live for the moment and want audiences to recognize where they’re coming from. "We want people to know that we’re true to the music," Amanfu says.

Since the album dropped, things have been happening quickly. "We’ve just kind of been snowball-riding," Amanfu says. They performed at the New Orleans Voodoo Experience for the fourth year in a row, made their debut at Austin’s South by Southwest festival, and toured the country from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles.

Just this week, they found out that they’ve been named the winner of the Singer-Songwriter Discovery of the Year contest on the Sirius XM Coffee House station. They’ll be opening a show for the Indigo Girls later this year.

"This is a weird time in our career," Brooker says. What he means is good-weird, not strange-weird. The duo is on whirlwind ride, and right now there’s a fine line between encountering devoted fans on the street and going completely unnoticed.

In the coming months, their popularity is sure to continue to skyrocket, with more tour dates on the horizon and a TV campaign to put faces with the voices that fans have come to know and love.

Sam & Ruby also plan to release a Valentine’s Day single in February and have another EP in the works, which is slated to be released in early spring.

Although the pair sometimes plays with band members ranging from a cellist to a drummer, for their performance Wednesday at the ASCAP Music Café, it was just Sam & Ruby. "It kind of keeps it unadulterated," Amanfu says, then she questions out loud whether unadulterated is the word she’s looking for.

As it turns out, it is. The sound created by the melding of their voices is pure harmony, without the background noise that sometimes prevents the vocals from shining through. And with Brooker and Amanfu at the mic, unadulterated vocals are all they need.

To find out more about Sam & Ruby, visit http://www.samandrubymusic.com , http://www.myspace.com/samandruby or http://www.facebook.com/samandruby.


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