Sam Brooker is from Wisconsin. Ruby Amanfu is from Ghana. When Ruby first heard Sam perform, she says, “I saw Sam before Sam saw me…It took me about 2.2 seconds before I thought, I want some of that.” When Sam finally got to see Ruby perform, he says she “blew [him] away.” Despite the immediate attraction, Sam and Ruby was a long time coming.
Although Ruby moved to Nashville from Ghana at age three, she remembers the change as something that awakened “this thing I had in me all along”—her musical sensibility—even though her devoutly Christian parents sheltered her from secular music. Her parents wouldn’t even let her listen to jazz, but did eventually branch out, “At age ten, my best friend gave me Madonna’s Like a Prayer, and it really opened up my world.”
Meanwhile, Sam was finding new music in a wholly American way—by raiding his brother’s record collection. Soon, he had taken a liking to James Taylor, Parliament, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, and Prince. He formed a band in high school, played shows in college, and never looked back. Eventually, he made a contact in Nashville: “The guy from the company called me and said, ‘Your CD sucks but we like your voice. Would you like to come down and record in our studio and get a little better demo?'”
It would still be several years before Sam and Ruby officially became a duo, but their partnership has now come to fruition. On August 11, they’ll release their debut album, The Here and The Now, which adheres to their mantra: “We want people to feel it like we feel it,” says Ruby.
For a taste of The Here and The Now, check out this MP3 of “Sarah“. Below are Sam and Ruby’s Poetic Memories.
Poetic Memory is a regular Owl and Bear feature in which musicians disclose their influences—whether it’s albums, songs, artists, or something random. If you’re interested in being featured here, send us an email.
1. Kenny Rankin – “Blackbird”: A cover of the Beatles’s song, but Kenny’s is the version in my book. It reminds me of my dad sitting on the couch playing guitar and singing. Miss you.
2. James Taylor: Pretty much any and all of James Taylor has been in my world since I can remember. My friend John Schneider and I won the high school talent show singing “Fire & Rain” and “Country Road”. Taylor is the soundtrack of my life.
3. Michael Franks – Sleeping Gypsy: Nuthin’ sexier than this album.
4. Michael Jackson – Off the Wall: Love love love Michael. Off the Wall is a masterpiece. If I’m at a club and “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” comes on, I’m on the dance floor before the first “Ooooooohhhh” (classic high-pitched MJ noise).
5. The Bucket Heads – All in the Mind: When dance tracks/sampling was cool, they pulled from a disco-y place—which made for a great album of feel-good music.
6. Ray Lamontagne – Trouble: The first time I heard Ray on the radio I thought “Who is this? Finally, a new voice that actually has real soul.” The kind that doesn’t need vocal acrobatics to fool people. Ray sings from the heart, and I felt it.
7. Patti Griffin – 1000 Kisses: I wore this album out! For my ears, it was a sonic masterpiece. I loved the spaciousness of the mixes, the soft lively reverb, the instrumentation. Ever since that album, I’ve modeled all of my mixing of acoustic production projects after Mil Besos.
8. Jesse Rice: Jesse is a country writer here in Nashville that I signed to a publishing deal this past year. He’s the most prolific/gifted smash hit writer I have ever met. He knows how to twist a “hook” into perfection. If you’re ever in my car, you’ll be listening to J. Rice demos, and you’ll love his songs…guaranteed!
9. Jump Little Children – “Cathedrals”: This is one of the most moving, well-written songs of the modern music era. Can’t say enough about how much that song can stir the soul.
10. “Moon River”: I learned a cool version of this song to play at a friend’s wedding last year. Now, whenever I pick up my guitar and want to relax or reminisce, I play this one.
These albums and/or songs are my limbs and my organs. They taught me how to process the blood pumping through my veins. They helped me to identify that “Oh, I get it. I’m alive.” In no particular order:
Fleming and John – Delusions of Grandeur: The whole thing, but the it tracks for me are “Love Songs”, “I’m Not Afraid”, and “Letters In My Head”. “I’m Not Afraid” was the closest I ever came to head banging in my young and sheltered life.
Rickie Lee Jones – Ghostyhead: I have owned every Rickie Lee Jones album from her debut until the year 2000, when I ran out of money and stopped living at Tower Records. This album never got the credit it was due. You probably won’t find this record in a store, and you definitely won’t find it on iTunes. But you should find it and hide in your room for a day (not a night, but a day), and study. The standout track for me is “Roadkill”. She sounds like James Dean on it.
James Taylor & Carly Simon – “You Can Close Your Eyes” (Live/YouTube): Once upon a time, during my first year of college, I had a soulmate who would sing/play this song to help me fall asleep in my unfamiliar dorm room bed. Hearing this version of James singing it with Carly and my world is set right again.
Alison Krauss – Now That I’ve Found You: The standout track for me is “When God Dips His Pen Of Love In My Heart”. I remember my eyes bulging out when that honey hit my ears for the first time. It was like I had just seen my first frickin’ rainbow.
Bill Withers – Best Of: “Grandma’s Hands”, no matter what anyone says, this is the one that made all of us go, “Hmm. This dude. Is awesome” (wholeheartedly agree -ed.). He is so much more than just “Lean On Me”, and I’m not trying to discredit that song by any means.
Cindy Morgan – “I Will Be Free” (from A Reason To Live): When I first heard this song, I was dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts (like the ones every tween gets when they get acne and body odor and get laughed at in front of a room full of people—all in the same week). This was my first taste of a song describing heaven, and when I heard it for the first time I started bawling. Yep, still makes me teary eyed today. The song soars just as well as it grounds. I recommended that this song be played at the funeral of one of my most beloved human beings. I only wish that I had mustered up the strength to offer to sing it myself.
Cindy Morgan – Real Life: Yeah, she gets two. This time the whole album. I was a really sheltered kid for the most part. Cindy Morgan was the Christian artist/songwriter who made me feel like faith was a real thing and not just the pink fluffy stuff that melted into a sticky mess at first touch. And this was the album that made me say to myself, “Geez… I wish I could drive. Add to that, I wish I had a convertible Chrysler.” The track that changed my universe, though, was “How Could I Ask For More”.
Madonna – Like a Prayer: Every track on this album is a standout track. Don’t you know this by now? Every. Track. Upon listening to this record, everything in my life began to look different, taste different, smell different.
Jump Little Children – “Cathedrals” (from Magazine): Jay Clifford and his band, and their string players, and their symphonic musical director, and their mix and mastering engineer are my guardian angels.
Elton John/Bernie Taupin- “Tiny Dancer” (from Madman Across The Water): My best friend at 13 was addicted to both Madonna and Elton John. Addicted. She introduced me to both of them. We used to sing “Tiny Dancer” every day at lunch and every afternoon when school let out, and then again when I’d spend the night at her house on the weekends (and some school nights, if I’m perfectly honest). You learn a lot of song lyrics when best girlfriends are so attached at the hip. Love you, MB.