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Ruby Dee and the Snakehandlers

North of Bakersfield – 2006 (Dionysius)

Reviewed by Dawn Pomento

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CDs by Ruby Dee and the Snakehandlers

The first song and single from the debut of Ruby Dee and the Snakehandlers is "Who Is She?" It's a jealous woman's inquiries into a no-good lover's activities, and it jump starts the CD with a Bakersfield-wrestles-rockabilly sound. This recording suggests that the quintet must kick ass on stage.

But the slower songs are also a treat because they highlight the vocal harmonies. Ruby Dee handles the lead vocals with confidence, as well she should since she wrote the clever lyrics. She has cultivated an almost flat-voiced hillybilly vocal style that works. Liz Smith adds harmony, and it's lovely to hear her sweet voice woven with Dee's. Smith also plays the acoustic guitar. Grant Johnson, a non-band member, adds the pedal steel, and it shines through on "So Lonely," another slow number.

The Seattle quintent take the roots country conventions and stamp their own influence on it. Though Dee can take credit for the classic lyrics, Jorge Harada on a big-sounding Telecaster lays the foundation for the swinging Bakersfield sound. He also co-produced it, adding a slew of other instruments. It's a solid release that will make fans of roots music look for the band with the double entendre name again.