Many musicians make a pilgrimage to Nashville in search of a new sound or jolt of musical inspiration, but Ruby Amanfu’s journey to Music City began when she was just three years old, when her family relocated to Tennessee from Ghana. Her time in the spotlight began when she was in third grade (she won a pack of gumballs at the talent show). After spending time in the duo Sam & Ruby and collaborating with musicians ranging from Patti LaBelle to Kelly Clarkson, she sang alongside Jack White on the White Stripes singer-guitarist’s 2012 solo LP Blunderbuss and performed “Love Interruption” by his side at the 2013 Grammy Awards.
But Amanfu cites covering Bob Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet” at a tribute show called Dylan Fest in New York in 2013 as the moment her career took flight. After her barn-burning performance at the gig, she teamed with the event’s producers and made a plan to cut an album of deep cuts by artists she admires most. The result — Standing Still (due August 28th via Thirty Tigers/Rival & Co Records) — was recorded in five days in a log cabin in Tennessee with producer Mark Howard, a six-piece band and guest producers that include the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney. Hear her cozy take on Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak cut “Streetlights” below.
“It was the first night in the cabin. I had talked with the band about how we were going to flip this Kanye West song on its head,” Amanfu tells Rolling Stone. “I wanted to turn it into a waltz but didn’t want to overthink it, so we just did what came instinctually. I sang to candlelight only and we just went for it. We did three takes of it and the third time was the charmed one that ended up on the record. I’m glad this is the first song everybody gets to hear because this is exactly where our album started.”
She says the song resonates with her because it “reminds me of those moments in life when time can present itself as a curse instead of a blessing. Time can often define an experience in a way that makes it feel like the moment has passed us by and faded out of view too quickly to fully grasp it. All you can do is keep paying your dues and keep moving forward and hope that those streetlights guide you to the destination you’re hoping for.”