I bought her debut CD, "Ride" and listened to it the whole way through (something I find awfully difficult to do with most country albums). But something nagged at me as I listened to it. As much as I enjoyed the album, it just struck me as a little bit ... false. The talent was there, the songs were there, the voice was there, yet I wasn't clamoring to make all my friends listen to the album. It just seemed like this Shelly Fairchild was trying to make a country album while she herself was not country exactly.
So I waited to hear more about Shelly Fairchild. I wanted more music, more videos, more performances, anything. Then the FHM issue... Don't get me wrong, Shelly Fairchild is an incredibly beautiful woman for whom most men would crawl 46.4 miles over angry scorpions just to be near, but that article and picture spread did her a grave injustice. By surrounding her with a bunch of pre-molded Nashville Barbies, it lumped her in with the plastic of the country landscape. And she deserved better than that type of soulless marketing.
And then ... nothing.
I would do the occasional Google search, check the record store bins (yes, they still have a few record stores), etc. Sometimes I would come across a YouTube video of her performing live somewhere. But it was never enough. I wanted more music. I wanted a new album. I wanted her to be a huge superstar so she could tour everywhere and release more and more albums.
And then the announcement came that her new album was coming out! And then it wasn't. (Damn you legal wranglings!) And then another announcement that it was coming out! And then it was here! I downloaded it that evening and have been listening to it ever since. And it inspired me. It inspired me to write this review. I haven't written a music review since I was a college DJ, but this album begged me to do it. Anything I could do to help more people hear it, I had to try.
(Wow, that was a long preamble. Sorry about that. On to the actual review of Shelly Fairchild's new album Ruby's Money.)
I want to begin by saying that when I listen to music, I am much less a lyric guy than a groove guy. Van Halen and Prince are two of my favorite artists of all time and no one is ever going to confuse their lyrical prowess with Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen. So the lyrics on this album might be the best poetry of our time or they might be the second coming of "Louie, Louie." I am not one to judge. But I will say that it doesn't matter at all when you are enjoying this album.
Now, having established myself as a feel type of music listener, let me throw this out there. This is an exciting album! This is one of those albums you listen to, move to, let it infect you, and then after it is over you wonder if really experienced all that. The last time I had that feeling was the first time I heard Nikka Costa's 2005 album, Can'tneverdidnothin'. I think it is a fair comparison actually. Both Costa and Fairchild have an insane amount of vocal and performance talent that has been sadly overlooked by much of the music listening public. Costa has a little more urban R&B in her voice where Fairchild has a bit more southern swamp, but both of them shake your soul like a lonely thunderstorm in the middle of a summer night.
In college, we would go through each song, title by title, and write a few sentences to allow other DJs some idea of what they were going to play if they had not heard it before. Then we would give overall impressions and pick out the songs we thought were the best on the album. Sometimes we would give each song a rating just to make life interesting. Since this is not a review for some fancy music magazine, I think I might just revisit that format here.
Ruby's Money by Shelly Fairchild
(review by Michael McMonigle)
Track 1 - "Love Revelation" -- A funky little rocker to start things off. This song has the sound of a mission statement. A declaration that the artist has arrived. You can almost picture Ms. Fairchild stalking the stage to the backing of some funked-up horns. 8.5/10
Track 2 - "You Said" -- This sounds almost like a follow-up to "You Don't Lie Here Anymore" but without the countrification. Some well placed vocal flourishes help this song stand out as one of the highlights of an album full of highlights. 9/10
Track 3 - "Like I Tried To" -- The bar is closing. It's last call. As you sit on your barstool and realize the place has emptied out quickly, you hear a lonely, bluesy ballad coming from the stage. Or is it from inside your mind? This is the ballad of your broken heart. (Also the band shines with some very cool jamming at the end.) 10/10
Track 4 - "What You Gonna Do" -- This song went back and forth for me. It sounds like it could be a Christina Aguilera song. And not "Genie in a Bottle" Aguilera, but post-"Dirrty" Christina. The one with full command of what she wants to say and how she wants to say it. The mid-tempo might have thrown me a bit, but this song could probably rock all sorts of ways in a live setting. 8/10
Track 5 - "Try the Truth" -- From the choppy guitar chords to begin the song, you realize this is not Country Shelly anymore. The horns punctuate the ferocity of the vocals perfectly. The song is almost heavy in its production and works very well. Case in point? A fiery guitar solo mid-song? Seriously, perfect. I was wrong before, THIS is the song that is the follow-up to "You Don't Lie Here Anymore." Whoever broke this poor girl's heart, shame shame! (But thank you for giving her the incentive for songs like this.) 10/10
Track 6 - "Here's Your Box" -- Here is where the album hit me upside the head. So far I had been digging the album, rocking it out, jamming to the beats, and anxiously looking forward to what would come next. What I was greeted with was a gospel-infused number that sees Ms. Fairchild preaching to whoever will listen. At 2:07, she unleashes a nine second wail which prompts the band to fall into a joyous revival and the song ends up in the dust of a hot southern town on a Sunday afternoon. Simply an amazing song. My favorite on the album and worth buying the album just to hear it once. It will be worth it. 10/10
Track 7 - "Somebody Pick Me Up" -- Now we enter ballad territory. "Like I Tried To" was a ballad, sure, but this seems to fall more into confessional singer-songwriter ballad territory to me. Not a bad song by any means. On its own, it is very touching and lovely. And as you listen through the album, it gives you a bit of a break. A chance to catch your breath from the incredible "Here's Your Box" and prepare you for the wallop the rest of the album will pack. 7.5/10
Track 8 - "Take Me Down" -- This song could have been on any of Melissa Etheridge's better albums. Roots-rock in the best sense. This is an example of what the result of Ms. Fairchild's country urges should be. 8.5/10
Track 9 - "I'm Just Sayin'" -- Did Ike Turner return from the dead to work out the funk in this song? Wow. Here, Ms. Fairchild sounds like the magic love child of Tina Turner and Janis Joplin conceived during a Sly and the Family Stone concert. If you are not bouncing when this song is on, I have to assume that you had red hot pokers shoved into your eardrums as a child. 10/10
Track 10 - "Love Everybody" -- This is the first song I heard from the album when fans picked it to be the first single. This is one of those songs that deserves to be a hit but obviously won't because it is too good. It is a song that is destined to be one of Shelly Fairchild's signature songs. It is good for what ails ya. Take two listens and call me in the morning. 10/10
Track 11 - "Baby Love" -- I am going to make what might be an odd analogy here, but give it a shot. Remember in 1978 Van Halen released their first album and Eddie Van Halen broke all the standards for guitar rock in the process? You would listen to that album all the way through and were just in shock of Eddie's guitar playing. Then the last song, "On Fire" came on and it seemed like Eddie just threw every bit of wizardry in there that didn't fit on any other song. Just because he could. "Baby Love" is Shelly Fairchild's "On Fire." Just when you thought you were listening to all she has, Ms. Fairchild unleashes this blistering onslaught. A rousing song with gospel-tinged backing vocals, the lead vocals reach through your ears and somehow make their way to your lungs. There they resonate your ribcage as you feel your heartbeat begin its own funky rhythm. A pure delight and the essential bring-it-home song. 10/10
Overall, Shelly Fairchild's Ruby's Money is an excellent and enjoyable album. I threw a lot of names/influences/similarities out there during this review, but that doesn't mean Shelly Fairchild is derivative at all. She is her own, unique artist who recalls old-school funk sensibilities with layers of gospel and soul mixed through a blues pastiche and blasted out of the rock speakers of a Ford Mustang convertible speeding down the back roads of Mississippi.
In this day and age of iTunes and individual songs being purchased and downloaded, an album is almost an afterthought. It is almost like we have regressed to the 50's and early 60's where albums were just places to combine the singles an artist has released. But Ruby's Money is a full-fledged album. It has varying feels and moods. It has different tempos and rhythms. It has incredible individual songs and taken together it is much more than the sum of its parts. It is an album in full measure and it holds up against anything I have heard in many a year.
This isn't a debut album, but it sure as hell sounds like a statement album. An album of purpose to announce that Shelly Fairchild is on the scene and is taking no prisoners.
Go buy the album now! You can purchase the download at http://shellyfairchild.bandcamp.com/. Even though I purchased the download, you know I will be grabbing a physical CD copy as soon as they are available. I'd buy this album on vinyl if she released it that way. It is just that good.
*By my estimation, Rock music went into hiding right around 1991. First from the grunge-y unwashed, then boy-band pablum, then rap ridiculousness, then the Disney creation-of-the-month, then neo-soul pretentiousness, then post-post-post-punk/Hot-Topic-
Just a few examples of this phenomenon can be seen in the work of Shania Twain (who Mutt Lange twisted into Joe Elliot's Canadian half-sister... and then married... awkward!), Keith Urban (I dare you to tell me that he didn't escape from a Bon Jovi cover band), Gretchen Wilson (who cares if you know every lyric by Tanya Tucker? I know people who have memorized all of Shakespeare's sonnets. That doesn't make them a playwright. It makes them Rain Man.), Sugarland (Poor Andrew Hyra... Kristian Bush traded you from Billy Pilgrim for Jennifer Nettles, who frankly is a little more photogenic), Carrie Underwood (if Kara DioGuardi co-writes some of your songs, are they really country songs? Really?), Taylor Swift (does she even know who Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson are? Does she even know the word "country?" Her songs sure don't), Montgomery Gentry (whose "Hell Yeah" power chord sing-a-long fest sounds more like AC/DC then anything ever heard in the Grand Old Opry), or Big and Rich (whose "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)" is about as far from the typical I'm-so-depressed-because-my-