Some stories, once they’ve been told and told again, are worth their weight in words. Just ask Rubyhorse, who’ve recounted their epic, cinematic journey from Cork City, Ireland, to Boston, Massachusetts, so many times that it feels like mechanical recitation. Sure, the story is packed with enough grit and inspiration to rivet any reader, but what’s it worth once it obscures the music? Words.
For those of you unfamiliar with the band, here are the Cliff’s Notes: Rubyhorse left Ireland, where they crafted and rehearsed their music in a meat processing plant, to arrive in Boston. Depending, initially, on the kindness of strangers, they earned a residency at The Burren. This would last an astounding 60 weeks, beginning with empty rooms and culminating with fans lined up in the afternoon just to ensure admittance to the show that night.
A major label deal came, and Rubyhorse delivered the immensely satisfying Rise, which spawned a shimmering single, “Sparkle”, and featured a cameo by the late George Harrison (on “Punchdrunk”). They toured a good two years throughout the U.S., Asia, and Ireland, with the likes of R.E.M., Sheryl Crow, David Gray, Ryan Adams, and Stereophonics, among others. “Sparkle” hit #17 on the Billboard charts and the band appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The David Letterman Show, and Good Morning America. They raked in accolades; namely, the “Hope for 2003” distinction at Ireland’s Meteor Awards as well as performing and winning an award at the World Peace Music Award show in Bali. Then Rubyhorse got their real break–freedom.
“We weren’t particularly upset about [the way things went],” says bassist/songwriter Decky Lucey about the band’s split with Island Records. “The thing that saved us was the music.”
Goodbye To All That, an album crafted on uncut human emotion and experience, is salvation, at that. Rubyhorse and Rise producer Jay Joyce (John Hiatt, Patty Griffin, Jack Ingram, Shelby Lynne) again holed up in Nashville, where they made Rise–only on a much tighter budget. They once more depended on the kindness of strangers (for discounted coffee, forgiven fender benders, and financial infusions) and pondered existential and professional questions. But, ultimately, they relished the liberty of their situation.
Rise was, on the surface, all anthems and aimed for the airwaves, such that its underlying substance was obscured. The songs were intense, transcendent, and visceral, but their “sparkle” nearly whited out the characteristics that made Rubyhorse such a profoundly excellent band: an innate knack for communication and expression, a poetic soul, graceful and crafty musicianship, and uniquely Irish themes of perseverance. The sweeping, majestic, exquisitely realized Goodbye To All That is both a distillation and revelation of these magnificent traits.
In the ethereal “Some Dream,” the perfectly unlikely, yet unlikely perfect, album opener, singer Dave Farrell reaches into untapped areas of his voice to conjure Jeff Buckley’s vulnerability, Nick Drake’s gentle croon, and Bono’s soul. Multi-instrumentalist Lucey, guitarist Joe Philpott, and drummer Gordon Ashe weave a surreal tapestry of sounds that reference Sparklehorse, Radiohead, and Turin Brakes (“Long Time Coming,” “Fell On Bad Days”) as much as they do a Tom Waits-Nick Drake (“Some Dream” and “Never Grow Old” mate Waits’s surreal spookiness to Drake’s idyllic, dreamy folk) or a Beth Orton-Coldplay union (“Can You Feel,” “Fell on Bad Days”).
Thematically, Rubyhorse deals with their story in order to commence celebrating their new freedom. “Some Dream” is the awakening; “A Place in the Sun” confronts morning-after realities (“when you think you/made it at last/and it knocks you/flat on your ass/hangin’ at half-mast”); “Company Man” handles the bitterness (“blood on your hands/company man?”). Long Time Coming” is the lucid realization things are pretty good, better than you’ve had them; it’s one hell of a new day.
“[This record] was like the start of an Indian ceremony,” Farrell says, “where all the things that happened the previous year, you throw into the fire. These songs that Decky had written, [we] felt we had to record them. They summed up our experience and were therapeutic.”
And so Rubyhorse is richer for their experiences. They’re creatively, emotionally, and contractually unencumbered, both far from and right back to their humble beginnings, making music for the sake of making music. That’s all they wanted to do when they came over here–it’s all they’re going to do now.
As Farrell croons in “Long Time Coming,” “Oh, you’ll never know how this feels/this is music to my ears”. Truer words, for Rubyhorse, have never been said.
“Rubyhorse… endearingly earnest, if not exceedingly charismatic.”
-Los Angeles Times
“Goodbye finds Rubyhorse cultivating a distinctive and mature musical voice, making it their best recording yet…”
-Annie Zaleski, Boston Herald
“Goodbye to All That is a gorgeous record and belongs in your music collection, reach for it when your melancholy needs some gentle attention.”