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Ruby Dee and the Snakehandlers

Miles From Home – 2008 (Dionysius)

Reviewed by Rick Cornell

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CDs by Ruby Dee and the Snakehandlers

The personality-filled country & western voice of Ruby Dee Philippa, complete with a catch that can weaken even the sturdiest knee, sounds like it's been well-seasoned over the years. If you swallow Philippa's lyrics, that weathering's come courtesy of many tough miles littered with fractured romances and Romeo brush-offs and the resulting scarred hearts and bruised egos. And if you believe the music - it's hard not to - those miles stretch from Bakersfield and Austin to Memphis and old Nashville, from Rock Bottom to Fist City.

The album starts off at highway speeds with an appropriately half-sizzling, half-smoky take on "Settin' the Woods on Fire" amidst four originals, all of them showcases for Philippa's vocals (delivered via three parts sly smile and one part sneer) and the Snakehandlers' way with a rockin' shuffle. The comparatively hushed midsection, however, represents a mixed blessing. Both "Comes a Time" and "Round and Round" demonstrate that Philippa and the band can slow it down as deftly as they can kick it up, but a combined 10 minutes-plus takes its toll on momentum. But the crackling, pool-sharking "Shameful Breaker" represents full recovery, as does the closer "Cry All Over Me." With plenty of shimmer breaking through the road dust, it ends the album on a high country-soul note.