- Ruby, Marrow
Katy Hellman and Steven Lebel's former band, "free-bleeding indie" outfit Julia Caesar, was a short-lived yet powerful force in Burlington music. The quintet seemed to satisfy a deep craving in the Queen City's young, progressive circles and was synonymous with social justice. Legend has it a full-length Julia Caesar album sits unfinished, unreleased and unheard by the band's devoted followers.
After Julia Caesar broke up a couple of years ago, Hellman and Lebel briefly moved to Philadelphia. But the multi-instrumentalists quickly returned to where their musical partnership began. Under the name Ruby, the pair continues to make psychedelic rock music with meandering melodies and deeply affecting lyrics.
For Marrow, Ruby's debut, Hellman and Lebel teamed up with producer (and Grace Potter guitarist) Benny Yurco, a smart and effective choice. Yurco's 2020 album, You Are My Dreams, was a fascinating, textural triumph of both songwriting and production. Here he elevates Ruby's tracks to panoramic proportions.
As was true of Julia Caesar's canon, Ruby's songs are gut-punch anthems that burrow into the dark recesses of the human condition. Titles such as "Marrow," "Cascades," "Carnivores" and "The Burning Sun" all point toward the deepest, most primordial feelings. Delivered in her signature quivering belt, Hellman's lyrics evoke rage, longing, consternation, quietude and a powerful urge to understand the world — and the self — at a molecular level.
Writers mostly agree on the following: You have to know the rules in order to break them. Hellman's songs are as unpredictable as they are powerful, charting courses that only she and her bandmate can navigate. Her melodies spiral upward and down, their highs and lows emphasizing a similar ebb and flow in the stories she tells.
Opening cut "Rapture" projects a feeling of tumbling down a dandelion-covered hill in slow motion. It's beautiful and nostalgic, with Yurco's guitar licks floating by like soap bubbles. But its lyrics flirt with a loss of control and existential crises as Hellman sings, "If I will you to break / Then I will break instead / The fish are all dying / And so are our friends."
"The Burning Sun" is a pared-down, golden-hour song featuring just Hellman's vocals, her guitar and some piped-in birdcalls. You can practically feel the arcs of sunlight warming your face as they cut through a towering canopy and limn Hellman's profile with golden edges.
"Muted Greens" and "Cascades" are bustling, exploratory tunes that center natural imagery. Both pulse with clattering drums and cymbals, their connective tissue laced with synths and atmospheric tones.
Ruby is Hellman and Lebel's grand destiny, a boundless space that lets them push and expand their sound. The title of their LP perfectly encapsulates what drives them: the things felt in the deepest, most protected part of the self.
Marrow is available at ruby8.bandcamp.com.