A new name to me, this is Ruby Dawn’s debut album, having been together for a few years now. I remembered the name of singer and keyboardist Carola Baer from the TPA review of 2021’s Prog the Forest event, wherein Rosamund Tomlins described her solo set as “intense, sometimes melancholic, but ultimately uplifting”, commenting on her strong presence and powerful vocals.
Carola is the main songwriter here, taking social consciousness and environmental issues for her lyrical themes. The press blurb suggests the music to be “a majestic mix of intensive melodic rock, minimalism, and haunting ambience” that “evokes the spaciousness of Pink Floyd, the smoky grooves of Massive Attack, and the edginess of Porcupine Tree”. Those are some big names to associate yourself with, so how did they get on?
Right from the atmospheric opening of Save the Day, you can hear where some of those pointers come from, and when Carola’s voice enters, the power, control and distinctive personality shine through. Other key takes from the opener is the crisp production, that renders Adam Perry’s drums particularly well, and some fine soloing from guitarist David Salsbury. It’s an impressive start, majestic indeed, with Carola finely poised at the centre of it all.
I get elements within Carola’s voice that remind me of the likes of Grace Slick, or Mama Cass Elliott perhaps, with an added edge of Janis Joplin raspiness. There’s certainly a late ’60s aura which works very well amid the sophisticated music, Star on You being a case in point of how you can blend contrasts that work well together in a cohesive whole. There’s an earthiness to the vocals that sits well in the cyclical slow-burning modernism, Carola’s voice brooding before being let loose for her range to lift the song to the heights as the power builds.
The energies are comfortably reined in for Breakdown, adding to the album’s dynamic nature. There’s menace in the air as the song stalks along with an impressive swagger, Carola’s phrasing adding to the appeal. Likewise the measured Stonewall, both songs acting as impressive way markers on the journey through the album, the guitar taking on an impressive Gilmouresque quality. Mirror of Your Life brings a healthy dose of modern prog with something of Marillion about it, the vocals hitting an emotional peak as the personality once more shines through, as it does on Dances on Mars, the band grooving around Salsbury’s guitar and supporting him through another fine solo.
Man Where’s Your Heart adds another new danceable element, without losing the rock edge as it moves easily through dynamic changes. Save Me is slinky and funky, Carola’s delivery changing tack accordingly and nailing it once again before morphing into Porcupine Tree territory with easy precision. The anthemic burst of Heaven’s Angels should make for a great singalong, oddly reminding me of Counting Crows, probably due to the tone of the guitar solo, the earthiness of the lyric and the sweet transition into semi-acoustic modes.
It’s a lengthy album that takes as much time as it needs to get to where it wants to be, the bulk of the songs checking it at around the six-minute mark, with the only outlier being the ten-minute Into the Sun, which gradually emerges from a mystical ’60s psychedelic intro to become a languid Eastern inflected epic. Very nicely done, particularly as it leads into the lighter and brighter palate cleanser that is Other Side, which builds to a beautifully uplifting close. Finally we get Dust and Fire which beautifully ties things up with another accomplished solo from Salsbury.
This album has been a long time coming for Carola, last year seeing the unexpected release of a solo album she recorded for herself 28 years previously, after a copy was found in a charity shop in Portland, Oregon. One of the songs from that recording, Save Me, is included here, making a nice link to her origins. There’s no disputing that Carola is a distinctive vocalist of real quality, but she also knows how to write particularly effective songs, and with Ruby Dawn she now has the vehicle to get them delivered to their full potential.
This is a very impressive debut, and I like it a lot. Varied, melodic, highly interesting and well worth a listen, Ruby Dawn have seemingly landed fully formed. The songs have plenty to say and the album crams an awful lot in, successfully avoiding the saminess that often affects bands of this kind. They’re clearly a talented bunch and sound confident in their abilities, so I’d expect them to be particularly effective live. I look forward to hearing how they go at the Prog for Peart festival in July.
01. Save the Day (5:33)
02. Star on You (5:54)
03. Breakdown (6:01)
04. Mirror of Your Life (6:02)
05. Dances on Mars (5:43)
06. Stonewall (6:36)
07. Man Where’s Your Heart (5:20)
08. Save Me (4:27)
09. Heaven’s Angels (6:16)
10. Into the Sun (10:16)
11. Other Side (5:16)
12. Dust and Fire (4:49)
Total Time – 72:13
Carola Baer – Keyboards, Vocals
Adam Perry – Drums
Ian Turner – Bass, Additional Keyboards
David Salsbury – Guitars
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 20th April 2023