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Review: The Ruby Kid & Dan Angell, ‘Maps’

February 17, 2011

A long time coming.

You may have seen Love Sheffield’s previous interview with Dan Randall, aka The Ruby Kid, last summer at Tramlines. Dan now lives in London (boo) but forged his style right here in the steel city, with band Black Jacobins before escaping down south. Once settled in London, there were more solo Ruby Kid gigs, more spoken word and a capella MC performances as well as those with Dan Angell – the producer on the ‘Maps’ EP. This move, and the work with Angell, has clearly been a huge influence on the stylistic content of this record, which has a far more polished sound than the last ‘Winter in the City’ EP, recorded in Sheffield with the Black Jacobins.

“Live and direct from the East End of London, via Sheffield, and Nottingham, New York – two passports – many home towns.”

Sense of place, and the surroundings in which Randall finds himself, jump out as the most defining influence on the narrative in many of his tracks – so it seems extremely appropriate that he names his new effort ‘Maps’. Frustrations with the north London hipsters in ‘Hoxton Bounce’ collide with the above reflection on attachments to a number of cities, in the UK and abroad, which are close to his heart. The melancholic ode to New York City on his previous album, ‘East 6th (Between 2nd & 3rd)’ makes way here for more references to London, and Sheffield too. As with previous tracks, here are all the frustrations and fondness of a local. “The ghostly Tinsley Towers” references the now absent (and much missed) Sheffield landmarks; The spoken word tracks “The Unreal City” and “The Imagined Village”, referring presumably to both London and the small Nottinghamshire town in which Randall grew up, continue to build on The Ruby Kid’s poetic relationship with place. Whether that be nostalgia, fondness, or even bitterness and resentment, like he says, he “had a map to conquer and the city was our territory”. The running threads of this theme influence the lyrics, but it’s also clear that the move from Sheffield to London has changed the Ruby Kid style as a whole – leaving a live band behind (except on the last live track), and towards the aforementioned solo work.

Which brings me on to where this record is truly at its best – its production. Complex layered vocals create a far more sophisticated sound than we have previously heard from Ruby Kid towers. That is not to say that his ‘live’ (as opposed to sample-based) work is any less impressive, but this certainly elevates his lyrics way beyond what is possible in a live setting and produces something that is unique to record. Clever use of samples, as well as incredibly slick production from Angell culminate in a very impressive collaboration. It is important, in fact, to note that this is presented as a joint effort, because the input from Angell as producer is easily as important in the sound as Randall’s poetic and intelligent lyricism.

“overly verbose”

Lastly – those lyrics. Trotskyism, drugs, literature, folk music…whatever Randall is dealing with, he does so with a vocabulary broader than your average poet laureate, and yet somehow manages to make it sound both natural and dynamic when fused into a hip-hop beat. There is a definite change in lyrical style on this record to older tracks that owes much to the layering of different takes, but also to a far more sophisticated overall signature style.

You can catch The Ruby Kid at various gigs around the country, though if you happen to be in the capital on 26th February, get yourself down to ‘Beats, Rhymes and Picket Lines‘ at Dusk Til Dawn in Archway – he’s playing a gig that’s raising money for some of the Israeli and Palestinian workers organisations I and others made contact with when we went out there last November.

You can listen to Maps here, but I’m sure he’d much rather you bought a copy.

Rosie @ LS

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