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Debbie Deane: Ruby Red Stars
(Ropeadope Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 11/16/2022)
The common stereotype of a singer-songwriter is one who accompanies him or herself on an acoustic guitar. And among the piano playing singer-songwriters, with the exception of artists like Carole King and Laura Nyro, the best-known are men like Randy Newman, Elton John and Ben Folds. But this week, we have a worthwhile new album from singer-songwriter and pianist Debbie Deane called Red Ruby Stars.
Born, raised and still living in Brooklyn, NY, Debbie Deane took early inspiration from artists like Carole King, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan. After earning a degree in English literature from Harvard, she decided to pursue a career in music. She studied jazz piano at the Berklee College of music, but gradually turned her attention to being a singer-songwriter. But she maintained her ties with the jazz world, associating with a number of notable jazz musicians, including saxophonist Seamus Blake, pianist George Colligan and drummer Brian Blade. Blade plays throughout Ms. Deane’s new album. This is her third release some nine years after her last one, Grove House. During that time, Deane has been busy as a piano teacher, and with her son Julian in elementary school in Brooklyn, she became active in getting music into the schools, specifically PS 130, founding a school music committee and launching the PS130 Music Festival, which has become an annual event.
Ms. Deane started on the recording of her current album in 2018, and now it is out. She is joined by drummer Blade, along with her band mainstay Christopher Thomas on bass. There are numerous guests, including five different horn players appearing on various tracks. Her songs are sometimes autobiographical, writing about her marriage breaking up and her ex succumbing to addiction, along with one written about a friend who perished on 9/11. The arrangements are mostly rock-oriented in sound, but the influence of jazz, especially in the musical composition, is apparent.
Opening is a tune called Le Dee Da presumably about the power of music. It’s nicely done. <<>>
The title track Red Ruby Stars is a straight out love song, and shows Ms. Dean’s jazz influence in the composition and in the presence of the horns, including saxophonist Donnie McCaslin who is featured prominently. <<>>
A song called Ghost is another tune with a jazzy musical structure, and with intriguing lyrics, about some metaphorical ghost who keeps invading one’s thoughts. <<>>
In This World is a song about missing someone special who could provide guidance, with an arrangement that reflects the yearning feeling of the lyrics. <<>>
Missing You as its title suggests, is a more sentimental ballad, with a rock style beat. <<>>
Waiting is a song with an interesting lyrical twist, concern about the reaction of the other person in the relationship to breaking it off. <<>>
The subject of a supposedly illicit affair forms the basis of the song Forbidden, which Ms. Deane and the band serve up nicely. <<>>
The album ends with Sweet Melody one of several pieces on the album in waltz time, a love song that involves music in the relationship. <<>>
Debbie Deane’s new third release Red Ruby Stars is a worthwhile album by a pianist singer-songwriter with a background in jazz, but with the jazz influence being fai rly subtle, taking shape more in of the form and harmonic changes in the compositions. It’s more of a pop album in sound and general style. But the material is first-rate both musically and lyrically, and the musicianship on the album is also admirable.
Our grade for sound quality, though, is about a B-minus. The mix is bass-heavy, with the bass drum much too prominent, the clarity of the instrumentation and vocals could have been better, and the volume compression, used to artificially jack up the loudness of the sound, is annoying as it interacts with the heavy bass.
Debbie Deane has created a literate, musically sophisticated album that’s in the best pianist-singer-songwriter tradition.
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