Celebrity (Empire of Emptiness)
Vinyl Records

With Celebrity (empire of loneliness), 17-year-old fiddle prodigy and emerging singer-songwriter Ruby Jane Smith makes a valiant leap out of the safe confines of country music, diving into an alternative melodic and lyrical adventure with a fearless confidence that she wears like a crown. Co-producer Bradley Hartman (Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris) helps Smith push her creativity to the limit and beyond, resulting in an album that will startle even – or perhaps especially – some of the Mississippi-reared, Austin-based young artist’s biggest fans and earliest supporters. The lovely opener, “The Innocents,” introduces Smith’s alluring vocals and ear for inventive melody while also serving notice straight-away that this most definitely won’t be another Ray Benson-driven ride with Bob Wills. The following track, the hauntingly dreamlike “XXVll,” is marked by an instrumental intricacy reminiscent of the symphonic rock of the ’60s and ’70s. Most of the album explores similarly arty landscapes, suggesting the soundtrack to a quirky but smartly directed independent film (particularly the bold cover of Wilco’s “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.”) But it’s never inaccessible, with songs like “City of Angels” and “This Song” veering into catchy folk-pop. And Smith’s instrumental prowess is on full display, with her fiddle flawlessly orchestrated throughout the entire album. She plays it with both flourish and seasoned restraint, deftly sweeping in and around the arching melodies and also sometimes just blowing it all out into space, as she does on the title track. Her band (featuring guitarist Trevor La Blanc) is in fine form, too, providing layers of intricate texture to every song and flexing their impressive jam-band muscles when let loose on the aptly titled instrumental bonus track, “Intrepid.” But even then it’s the fiddle that stands out most of all, proving that this is still the Ruby Jane Show, and she’s never sounded more in control. — TRACIE FERGUSON