Jacobo: Jack Ruby Presents arrive in high fidelity, as they were meant to be heard

The release of Jack Ruby Presents’ debut LP, “Over Wires and White Plains,” could not have come at a better time. During my time at Linfield, they have consistently been at the top of the campus music scene. It’s been fun to watch their music evolve, take on a grander scope, accept the influences of more and more genres; in short, the music has become more complicated, ambitious, and as a result, it has continued to improve on itself. And now, as the band’s four members (seniors Chris Hernandez, Melissa Davaz, Aaron Owens and Jesse Hughey) prepare for graduation, the release of their debut comes as a bittersweet goodbye to the place that brought them together.

Jack Ruby Presents challenges listeners with a sound that doesn’t mimic something on the radio. It’s not simply a variation on what’s popular in indie or pop music circles. They don’t sing the usual set of John Mayer, Jack Johnson and Jason Mraz covers. They don’t steal their sound from MGMT or Vampire Weekend or Fleet Foxes, some of the most widely enjoyed and popular bands in indie right now.

They take risks, drawing inspiration from folk Americana, in the tradition of Guthrie and Dylan, yet neither of the two seem apt descriptions; the music is infused it with the sounds of the roots of rock and roll, a twist of modernity. They sing songs of whiskey, of death, of grimey cities full of lights on beautiful summer nights. They pay tribute to the Western sense of adventure in pine-filled woods and a greater consciousness, of Southern lynchings, of travels in London and Antwerp.

Five of the songs on the twelve-track album are tracks you’ve heard before on earlier releases; much of the material has been played at CatCabs, house parties, and bars in Portland.

But the secret to this album lies in the fidelity. Listen to the “Fingers” track from the “Strange Fruit single that was released last year: The song has a tinny, cold sound; the vocals are too soft, they don’t do justice to Hughey’s voice, hoarse and strained, worn down and raw like it’s the last song after a long night of yelling at the top of his lungs. The volume is too low: you can’t turn it up loud enough to get into the song. It doesn’t quite affect you in the way it should.

Now listen to the version of “Fingers” on “Over Wires and White Plains.” It sounds totally different: The guitar is dense, warm, full; Hughey’s vocals come alive, thicker and richer; you feel like he’s playing live in the corner of the room where the sound booms out of the speakers, loud like it was meant to be.

For the concentrated listener, it makes a world of difference. The range and emotion found in Davaz’s striking, soulful singing isn’t masked behind the lo-fidelity of a cheap recording. This is the song the way it was meant to be heard, almost as good as the band’s live shows, where the feelings are worn on their faces and the blasting speakers reverberating the music around the room, filling it something magical because it’s honest, not convoluted or relentlessly sophisticated or dumbed down; something true of human emotion, of sadness, of longing, of headaches and heartbreaks.

When you listen to this album, pay attention to the mixing and sound quality; the songs come alive here in the way that they couldn’t quite make it on “The Cardboard EP” and “Strange Fruit” single. The instrumentation fades and returns in layers of sound that add complexity to the band’s sound. The songs are as loud as you want them to be, with no degradation of quality. It’s like they are playing inside your head, taking the form of something larger than their combined personas, like this band is one that’s here to stay, if there’s anything right with the world.

In short, the album is stunning, allowing the listener to fall into the essence of the songs, to fall into the emotions related. And when the last vocals of the album’s final track fade and you can hear the squeaking hinge of a door opening and closing, you know they are leaving, but you want them to stay. You want them to play you a few more songs. You want an encore.

It seems fitting considering the band’s three members are all graduating in a few weeks; you certainly wonder where they’ll go and what they’ll do with all that musical talent.

Over Wires and White Plains is available for $10 via Jack Ruby Presents’ website, jackrubypresents.com

You can see them play their final Cat Cab show in Fred Meyer Lounge at 9 p.m. May 20.

Jordan Jacobo
Columnist Jordan Jacobo can be reached at linfieldreviewopinion@gmail.com

2 Comments on Jacobo: Jack Ruby Presents arrive in high fidelity, as they were meant to be heard

  1. HellaMeh // May 17, 2010 at 2:57 am //

    I must say, this is a rather bizarre music review.

    First, since when is “Americana” not standard indie fair? It’s mentioned here like it is something JRP is on the cutting edge of, but I’m pretty sure it has been pretty significant in the indie scene for at least a decade. Hell, half the bands paraded at SXSW have been labeled “Americana.” And Wilco are probably more famous than the Fleet Foxes, and Wilco are about as Americana as bands get. Hardly “risky.”

    Second, this review is awfully favorable. Yes, this is a nice little CD, especially for a bunch of college kids who have been only doing this for a couple of years. But very few albums are as perfect as this review would lead. There are certainly a couple great tracks, but then, like most albums, a couple that lack the same punch. Just because the author knows the band doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t criticize the band where they deserve it.

    And in the final bit of weirdness of this review, I really don’t understand the emphasis on the recording. If a CD is released by a real record label, you would hope it sounds better than the amateur recordings made by the band themselves. And is the production all there really is to talk about? How about some analysis of melodies or a more song by song review? Is the song-writing good? What works in the album song-wise? What doesn’t?

    All that being said, I’ve heard the album, it’s definitely not bad. In fact, pretty good for a group’s first crack at an album. It’s not perfect, but very few albums are. Worth picking up. The author does, though, get right the bit about the importance of the inter-reliance between community and JRP, and maybe for that alone the album is worth purchasing.

  2. Personally, I thought this was a perfect album, or as perfect as it could have been (obviously no album can be literally perfect). It’s true that not all songs have the same punch, but if you punch the listener too much you’re going to knock them out. However, every track is good, enjoyable, well-written and they all flow well together, making the entire album a great experience when listened to in its entirety and something I want to listen to again and again. To me, that is what makes an album perfect. Of course, not everyone has the same standards for what they consider perfect, but I think those who do feel this album is perfect, have solid ground for believing so.

    And in Jordan’s defense, I don’t think he was writing this as a professional, formal review, just more like his personal take on the album (though I may be wrong). In either case though, I think he represented the album fairly and accurately. And he covered some aspects I didn’t really touch on in my review, which is nice.

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