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It's been a long and winding road for African-born, Nashville-raised singer/songwriter Ruby Amanfu. Her versatility, thoughtful collaborations, and frequent brushes with fame seem like they should have added up to a higher level of success than she's enjoyed so far. Her 2015 LP Standing Still is, in fact, her third solo album since 1999, and her first since forming the acclaimed roots-pop duo Sam & Ruby with fellow songwriter Sam Booker in 2005. Following a 2012 run in Jack White's all-female backing band and a subsequent duet with White at the 2013 Grammys, Amanfu's star seems on the rise. The genesis of this album purportedly comes from another 2013 performance at a Bob Dylan tribute in New York. Her rendition of late-period highlight "Not Dark Yet" was seen by Mark Howard, who had originally engineered Dylan's version and he immediately came on board to produce her next album. Though a skilled songwriter in her own right, Amanfu applied herself to an impeccably curated set list that contained just one original, the dreamy "I Tried." Recorded by Howard in a secluded cabin outside of Nashville, the remaining nine songs on Standing Still come from sources as varied as Jimmie Dale Gilmore ("Where You Going?"), Richard Hawley ("As the Dawn Breaks") and Kanye West ("Streetlights"), yet her subtle treatments feel entirely natural and personal. Additional production efforts from the Black Keys' Patrick Carney on "Shadow on the Wall" don't stray far from the album's general aesthetic, which relies heavily on drifting pedal steel motifs and understated, soulful accents. Her smoky voice and crafty delivery are the stars here and though it's largely a slow-burning set, Standing Still is worth making time for. ~ Timothy Monger
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