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Review: Ruby Jane demonstrates pluck at McDavid Studio

Posted 2:03pm on Saturday, Jun. 30, 2012

It must be maddening to Ruby Jane Smith to be labeled a mere "fiddle prodigy."

The 17-year-old Austin resident, fresh from graduating high school, showed a nearly full McDavid Studio Friday night why that particular description is so narrow. While Smith, who was born in Dallas, is certainly capable of scorching fiddle runs with a traditional country bent, she's also perfectly comfortable covering Wilco (a spot-on reading of I Am Trying to Break Your Heart) or Herbie Hancock. It's tempting to consider her the Lone Star answer to Grammy-winner Alison Krauss, but Smith makes a strong argument for creating a category all her own.

Her 90-minute set, split in two by a 25-minute intermission, had the audience delighting in every twist and turn, often calling out to the stage and creating an easy rapport between performer and spectator. Backed solely by her long-time guitarist Trevor LaBonte, who had plenty of show-stopping moments himself (particularly during an inspired take on Gershwin's Summertime), the young singer-songwriter, gifted with an alluring alto, pulled liberally from her just-released album Celebrity (Empire of Emptiness).

Mixing wry humor (This Song) with dazzling instrumentals (Intrepid, co-written with LaBonte), Smith moved easily between jazz, blues, folk, pop and country. The crisp acoustics of McDavid Studio revealed every nuance in exacting detail; the breezy bonhomie generated by Smith and her collaborator will doubtless find itself emanating from ever larger stages as she continues winning over crowds at home and around the world (she's due in Finland next week). After all, her talent will transcend language barriers as easily it does any preconceived notions.

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