Ruby Friedman Orchestra, a musical collaboration active since 2009, leave us with a collection of soul and country influenced tracks on their debut album, Gem . The album begins in strong, dramatic fashion, with “Fugue in L.A. Minor”. Here, Friedman’s voice is filtered such that the track sounds as if it may well have been taken off radio during the golden age of soul. The authenticity is admirable here; however, it also means that the album peaks very early. Friedman’s voice has much presence, and there’s obviously been a clear emphasis placed on crafting passionate music, but we’re numb to the effects of her overly dramatic voice by about halfway through the album.
In addition, it feels as if The Ruby Friedman Orchestra is, as the name suggests, merely a vehicle for Friedman’s own using. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but despite the fact that there’s apparently a wealth of musicians accompanying her, it feels at times like the instrumental aspects of the music are never fully explored. It doesn’t help that Friedman’s pitch-bends and often dour melodies become overpowering for audience and instrumentalists alike. There’s no doubting her talent, but it occasionally feels as if the musicians are having to compete with Friedman to be heard. The end of “Ten Minutes” is one such example.
As the album reaches the aforementioned halfway mark, the music takes a more somber turn, and there are even some country and Americana influences thrown in for good measure. The closing track, “Lonely Road Symphony Rag”, fits the bill here, in nostalgic, truly American fashion. But by the time the second half of the album rolls around, we’re ready to hear more than just Friedman’s own capabilities as a vocalist. Regrettably, despite the change in energy, it’s still The Ruby Friedman Show for all intents and purposes. Thus, we’re left wondering what could have been if this album had opened up more. There’s certainly creativity and genre exploration, but it’s just not cohesive enough on a song-by-song basis.