Ruby Red is the sound of Carolina’s The Love Language blossoming like never before. Unlike Stuart McLamb’s previous albums, 2009’s self-titled debut and 2010’s Libraries, Ruby Red was very much a collaborative process. Recorded across different locations in the US with some 20 musicians it’s something of a revelation for a musician who was previously resolutely committed to the isolation of largely lo-fi solo recording. As a result, Ruby Red is a far more expansive and rewarding listen.
McLamb’s musical vision imbued with a strong pop nous, is still at the heart of The Love Language but here, in tandem with a full supporting cast of musicians and hi-fidelity recording he sounds energised and committed. Tracks like the rollicking Calm Down and Kids’ sky scraping guitar thrust are possessed with a newfound spirit of expression. You can no longer categorise The Love Language as lo-fi rough-hewn introspection. This is rock music that can jump rivers and cross canyons.
The increased ambition is further realised in the number of musical flourishes allied to some impressive song writing. Strings and horns are prominent. McLamb has always possessed a love for Phil Spector and Burt Bacharach but now he has finally been able to more successful realise those ambitions. Graceful strings give hi-life a shimmering summery beauty while horns provide a nice coda to the otherwise uninspiring garage rock of First Shot. These added elements really help to lift McLamb’s music beyond trad guitar rock.
The increased musical palette and advanced production does not always work however. The airy synths of Golden Age cannot lift a rather drab melody while the odd combination of whistle and violin on the yearning country lament of For Izzy is slightly overwrought.
You can trace Ruby Red’s sound from across US guitar pop’s history. The record it most resembles though is last year’s second Wild Nothing album, Nocturne. It is a similar example of a solo musician progressing the music beyond primitive beginnings and taking the song writing to a new level. In keeping with this development, the songs are full of life and vigour. There is no maudlin introspection. The Love Language appear imbued with the joys of life. As McLamb cries on rousing closing track Pilot Light, “I think I’ve finally seen the light.”
Ruby Red finally fulfils the potential in Stuart McLamb’s song writing. It’s an accomplished example of someone progressing their sound by having the ambition to change their ways of working. As such, it marks a new beginning for The Love Language.