There’s just something about a good comeback story that plays to the human emotion.
Ruby Lovett seemed to be on her way to stardom after being offered a record deal from Curb Records in 1995. The self-titled album, released in 1998, was produced by the legendary Allen Reynolds, who, at the time, was serving as Garth Brooks’ producer during his monumental rise to superstardom, as well as producing for Don Williams and Emmylou Harris, among many others.
The album’s solely released single, “Look What Love Can Do,” was a deeply personal song for Lovett, and it detailed her experience as an adopted child, and touched many listeners around the world.
However, when the single stalled at number 73 on the country charts, Lovett exited Curb’s roster. After releasing one independent EP in the early 2000s, Lovett wouldn’t be heard from again musically until March of 2019, when she released the critically-acclaimed album “It’s a Hard Life.”
However, before writing her personal comeback story, Lovett was beginning her journey singing at music festivals and digesting country music legends.
“I grew up singing at gospel music singing conventions and bluegrass festivals, so most of my early musical influences were local singers and musicians who also performed at those events,” says Lovett. “As far as country music stars that I was influenced by, I’d have to say Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and Dolly Parton.”
Lovett began recording songs at just eight years-old, and formed her first band at 13, though music wasn’t initially a dream of hers.
“I’m not sure that singing appealed to me early on as much as it appealed to my mother. She was the ‘driving force’ that pushed me to sing and take piano/guitar lessons, record a 45 rpm at the ripe old age of eight, and sing in a band,” says Lovett. “Eventually, her ‘dream’ became my dream. I started to love, appreciate, and pursue my own musical path.”
At her mother’s insistence, Lovett recorded a handful of songs she had written, and sent the cassette to Jimmy Metts, a music publisher in Nashville, who was instantly sold on her voice.
“The first thing in any artist that draws me to them is their vocal; if it’s authentic and if it strikes a key. That’s the first thing that really struck me about Ruby,” says Metts. “I liked her voice, and I liked the fact that there was no ‘put on’ or anything, it was just her singing the way she naturally sang.”
After recording another round of demos in Nashville, Metts suggested that Lovett should move to Music City, and give a career in music a shot, a suggestion that he does not make lightly.
“You have to be really careful about who you tell to move to town. We take that really seriously when we tell somebody to move,” says Metts. “Once they come here, it’s a whole new ball game. It’s filled with ups and downs, so we’re really careful about throwing that phrase out, because that’s changing somebody’s life. You can’t guarantee anything.”
Lovett obliged, and within five years of being in Nashville, Lovett was gaining interest from record labels, eventually signing with Curb Records.
“In 1994, after two unsuccessful developmental deals with Epic and then RCA Records, my music was brought to the attention of Dick Whitehouse, the president of Curb Records at that time,” says Lovett. “I met him, he heard me sing, and by February of 1995, I was signed.”
Work began on Lovett’s self-titled album for Curb right away, with multi-platinum producer Allen Reynolds being brought in to spearhead the project. Reynolds, who has shown to have an eye for talent, was instantly drawn to Lovett.
“I liked her feel for music. She was a really natural singer, and I felt connected to the kind of music she was attracted to,” says Reynolds. “As we worked together, I just really liked her. She’s a great person.”
After completing the album, Reynolds was confident in the product they had created.
“I was pretty pleased,” says Reynolds. “I was hopeful that we had cut an album that was good on musical merits, and also commercial enough to make a dent for her, and get a career rolling.”
The album’s lead single, “Look What Love Can Do” was released in 1998. The song was special for Lovett, as it detailed her experiences, along with the experiences of co-writer Hunter Davis, of being adopted children. Taylor Pie, the third co-writer on the song, felt the song’s magic in the writing room.
“There were two adopted writers on that song: Hunter and Ruby. They came from very different circumstances, and the three of us were sitting in the room, and they were talking about their experiences,” says Pie. “Everything flowed together, and Hunter jumped right in on it. Ruby and Hunter would do a lot of back and forth with sharing their experiences, and I felt like the muse in the corner, just following what was going on. I felt blessed to be there.”
However, the song was not originally supposed to be a part of the album, and was added on after the album was initially completed.
“The album had already been completed when I turned the song into Curb Publishing, and honestly, I thought no more of it,” says Lovett. “I received a call from Curb telling me that they’d heard the song and they were very excited about it. I was told it could be my ‘Butterfly Kisses.’”
After being brought in to co-produce the recording of “Look What Love Can Do” with Shelby Kennedy, Metts began to feel the magic of the song as well.
“It just struck a chord with everybody. It was something that I think the record was missing. I think it’s something that really fit Ruby,” says Metts. “I liked the song in its early stages. A lot of the time, the trick is to make sure you stay true to the song as much as you can. If they really captured it, you don’t want to change it too much, you want to just build off of that simple demo and make it just a little bit better if you can.”
Metts felt that releasing “Look What Love Can Do” as a single was an obvious choice.
“It was one of those things that happens every once in a while where you just get a song that everybody goes “Okay, this is just better than the rest,” says Metts. “It seemed like it was an obvious choice. When that song came through, we knew it had to be one of the main anchors of the record.”
Though Lovett, Reynolds, and Metts were getting great reactions to the single and album from Curb Records, Reynolds believes that the label never really got behind the single, which peaked at number 73 on the country charts.
“Mike Curb told me repeatedly how much he liked the album and how he listened to it weekly. However, nothing ever gelled with the label,” says Reynolds. “It didn’t feel like there was a very strong commitment from them.”
Metts, who had heard the song in its early stages, felt a letdown when the song stalled on the charts.
“You always get your hopes up,” says Metts. “I had heard it as a demo, and I was excited about that, and then we got it recorded for the record, and I was even more excited about it. You’re constantly going from stage to stage with this excitement and having expectations and hope that it does well. When you actually get the single released, your hopes are always high. Of course, it was a letdown when it didn’t do as well as we wanted it to.”
No one was more disappointed than Lovett, given the song’s subject matter.
“I was devastated, especially because the song was so personal,” says Lovett. “I felt I had fought so hard for so long, and had put so much into the album, and shown patience with waiting almost two years for the album to be released. I was in a bad place in my life at that time, both personally and professionally. I was done.”
The book closed with Curb soon after.
“I think up to that point, I had been sort of spoiled in the business, in that prior to my deal with Curb, I had been signed to developmental deals with both Epic and RCA Records,” says Lovett. “I felt it’d be ‘no big deal’ to get signed to another record label, perhaps one that would be a better fit for me and the type of country music that I sang. So, one day while I was at my ‘day job,’ I picked up the phone and called Curb and asked out of my contract. They obliged.”
After releasing a six-song EP independently in 2003, Lovett wouldn’t release music for 16 years.
“I’d been chomping at the bit for years, waiting and hoping for the opportunity to get back in the studio and record new music,” says Lovett. “But as most folks know, those sorts of endeavors cost lots of money.”
The opportunity to record a new album presented itself in 2018, as Taylor Pie and Lovett began working on “It’s a Hard Life” for PuffBunny Records, which featured help from Reynolds and long time friend, Mark Miller.
“It has been a real treat for me, not only to get back in the studio and record new music, but an extra special treat to be back in the studio with Mark Miller and Allen Reynolds again,” says Lovett. “Mark co-produced and engineered, and Allen gave us his wisdom and advise, and sang some fine harmonies on a couple songs. It was just like old home week. I’m grateful to them, the musicians, Taylor Pie and PuffBunny Records for this chance.”
The album features a different, yet not unfamiliar sound than her album with Curb, blending bluegrass, traditional country, and folk for one critically-acclaimed album, something Pie says fits Lovett very well.
“In my mind, the kind of music that Ruby’s voice lends itself to is that folky edge of country. She’s not just bluegrass, and she’s not just traditional country. She can even do country blues as she did on the record with “The Blues You and Me.”
Lovett jokes that the rootsy feel on the album is something that lends itself best to her voice.
“Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, I don’t have any choice much in the matter,” Lovett says with a laugh. “I could sing ‘Enter Sandman’ by Metallica, and it’d still sound like I had a mouthful of cornbread.”
Metts feels that “It’s a Hard Life” is Lovett showing off her true musical colors.
“I love her new record,” says Metts. “I think it fits Ruby, her vocal, and where she comes from much better than the record we made. It’s so acoustic based, and it showcases her voice. It’s almost like it took this many years for that kind of record to be okay.”
Pie is still noticing musical growth from Lovett, 22 years after her album on Curb Records.
“Her songwriting has blossomed,” says Pie. “She’s one of the best songwriters I’ve ever worked with.”
Lovett is working with a newfound confidence and appreciation for the opportunities and success she is earning with “It’s a Hard Life.”
“I think, to a certain extent, I’ve stopped worrying about listening and overanalyzing every note, and just singing,” says Lovett. “I’ve found a little more confidence in my songwriting abilities. I appreciate the opportunities that come my way now, instead of taking them for granted. During my time with Curb, it became obvious to everyone but me I guess, that I had a drinking problem. I think the things I just mentioned are made more possible by the fact that I’ve been sober for 12 years.”
As for her debut album, Reynolds still loves the album, and attributes Lovett’s longevity to her authenticity.
“She’s just very genuine. I love her singing, and I’ve been a fan of her songwriting for a number of years,” says Reynolds. “I just think there’s an honesty in her writing that charms me, which is kind of rare.”
Metts echoes Reynolds’ feelings.
“Ruby is authentic,” says Metts. “What you see is what you get.”
Pie feels that Lovett has a uniqueness to her artistry that is unique to only Ruby.
“Her voice is unlike any other voice I’ve ever heard. It’s very unique, and that’s a big selling point to me,” says Pie. “We live in a day and age where you turn the radio on, and you don’t know who you’re listening to, because sometimes, they all sound the same. There’s a template that gets put over country music; groups come through that sound like a certain artist because they’re doing well. Ruby doesn’t sound like anyone else.”
Lovett, who is planning to capitalize on the success of “It’s a Hard Life” by playing shows and writing, hopes that fans appreciate her journey so far, and feel the true power of music on the album.
“I have always thought music should make people feel something, believe something, or change their minds about something,” says Lovett. “I hope that people get the chance to hear the new album, and if they do, I hope it does one of these things for them. I’d like for it to leave them smiling and wanting to listen again.”
*All images courtesy of Ruby Lovett Website*