Ruby Amanfu isn’t a household name yet. But the Nashville singer has collaborated with many artists that readers would be familiar with including Jack White, Brittany Howard and for a forthcoming release Ryan Adams. Her debut album, 2016’s Standing Still, was an inspired selection of covers. Amanfu likely selected each song on that record as a result of a personal connection she had. So it made sense for Lincoln Center to invite her to perform for their ‘American Songbook’ series — artists typically give insight into their music or lives throughout the set during these shows. Amanfu noted she had played a WFUV show at Lincoln Center in the fall which earned her the invite for the weeknight show in the Kaplan Penthouse.
I had previously seen Amanfu at the intimate Rockwood Music Hall, as part of the Neil Fest Celebration and at Newport Folk Festival last year. She’s an impressive performer. She can have people wiping away tears or dancing wildly to her songs in one set.
During the Neil Fest event, Amanfu met Ryan Adams, another performer in the show. Not long after, Amanfu was invited to Katz’s Deli to meet Adams (and to partake in the delicious Reuben sandwich he had). He discussed working on an album with her, and she affirmed her interest with a mouthful of corned beef. Amanfu followed this funny story with the love song, “Everything”, one of the songs the two had worked on.
“In a Circle” began with another funny story. Amanfu originally had a line about a gerbil running in a wheel in the song, but she decided she would have lost all credibility (and I might agree) if she actually kept the line. She didn’t reveal the fix outright, but when the adjusted portion of the song came, the audience smiled along with Amanfu knowingly.
The most emotional highlight came when Amanfu introduced her cover of Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet”. She explained how the first time she performed the song live (at Dylan Fest) it had laid her bare. She hadn’t expected to be as vulnerable on stage, but now it made sense, and now the song is a staple of her performances. As Amanfu drew out lines like, “Behind every beautiful thing / there’s been some kind of pain”, some in the audience looked a little teary-eyed.
Indeed, Amanfu has a lot to offer musically and emotionally. Hopefully, her album with Adams comes out soon. But even if she releases another set of covers, I won’t complain.
Bluff (Ruby Amanfu and Katie Herzig)
Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand) (Jeannie Seely, Judith Arbuckle, Pat Sheeran, and Randy Newman)
Shadow on the Wall (Brandi Carlile, Phil Hanseroth, Tim Hanseroth)
When My Man Comes Home (Buddy Johnson and J. Mayo Williams)
Everything (Ruby Amanfu and Ryan Adams)
Sugar (Dan Wilson)
Precious (Ruby Amanfu, Butterfly Boucher, and Nissi Hall)
I Put a Spell on You Screamin’ (Jay Hawkins)
As the Dawn Breaks (Richard Hawley)
Not Dark Yet (Bob Dylan)
Guilty Conscience (Ruby Amanfu and Adrianne Gonzalez)
I Am the Fire (Ruby Amanfu and Ryan Adams)
Street Lights (Jenny Englishman, Benjamin Mcildowie, Antony Von Williams, and Kanye West)
In a Circle (Ruby Amanfu)
How My Love Gets Made (Ruby Amanfu and David Mead)
Heaven’s My Home (Ruby Amanfu and Katie Herzig)