Ruby Boots wields a steely gaze. Fists clenched. Heels planted squarely. A firestorm rages around her, but she never flinches. Instead, she digs in even more, poised and reserved. She’s waiting for the right moment to strike, and when she does, illustrated magnificently on her sophomore album, Don’t Talk About It, it is with precision, fearlessness and wisdom. Like many women before (and certainly after) her, Boots reveals a tale of heartache mercilessly, situating her voice around fevered alt-country, which bounces between stripped traditionalism, gutsy honky-tonk and unnerving indie-rock. “I am a giver / I’ll give you all that you need / No shame in the taking / Take every part of me,” she sings on “I Am a Woman,” a calming but affecting hymnal that serves as “the backbone of the album,” as she puts it.
The vulnerability in her voice cracks the sky, but with it comes a soothing resignation, an eery acceptance of things to come, looming just over the next ridge. She, like many women, have clawed and thrashed their way through a system built to destroy them, to cast them as nothing, to break them down, little by little. But instead of retaliating and giving the devilish white men exactly what they want, she gives pause. In recent months, during the sweeping exposure of systemic abuse and harassment by the hands of gatekeepers and assumed confidants, she escaped into her songwriting. “[This song] was conjured up amid recent events where men have spoken about, and treated, women’s bodies the way no man, or woman, should,” she explains. “This kind of treatment toward another human being makes every nerve in my body scream.”
Instead of deferring to the anger, she sought out a more graceful approach. “I wanted to respond with integrity,” she continues, “so, I sat with my feelings, and this song emerged as a celebration of women and womanhood, of our strength and our vulnerability, all we encompass and our inner beauty, countering ignorance and vulgarity with honesty and pride and without being exclusionary to any man or woman.” Her performance then is enchanting. Also painting herself as “a river,” “a mountain” and “a believer,” she sacrifices a part of herself to save another. “I am a woman / Do you know what that means / You put it all on the line when you lay down with me,” she confesses, engraving the record with a creed for survival.
Boots’ bravery, both musically and thematically, radiates outward. Don’t Talk About It (out this Friday) is produced by Beau Bedford (Paul Cauthen, Kirby Brown), also frontman of The Texas Gentlemen, who come to play ten-fold on the album, and is anchored with a title cut depicting “our ability to move on and through life without constantly looking back at what has bitten us,” she says. Co-written with Nikki Lane, who also lends enthralling backing vocals, the tune juggles trauma and recovery ⎯⎯ our perceptions of both define who and what we are. “All these constant reminders don’t do nobody no good / Our world’s been divided / All that’s left are these hooks,” she sings on the spacey, western boot shuffle. With Modern Electric Sound Recorders Studio as the backdrop, the album ⎯⎯ which includes contributions from such musicians as McKenzie Smith, Chase McGillis, Ryan Ake, Nik Lee and Daniel Creamer ⎯⎯ is a detailed testimony of Boots’ journey so far.
Real name Bex Chilcott, the singer, songwriter and musician left home when she was 14. A troubled family life provoked her to seek an identity in the glow of untamed waves and crisp salt air. Hopping aboard pearling ships and scouring the waters of the Indian Ocean, she was swiftly met with hard lessons about life, love and coming of age. When she rambles over the blistering “I’ll Make It Through,” a barroom-worthy number unraveling romantic anguish (another Lane co-write), she is shrewd but somehow chained to the past. “I’m the one you need / Is that why you hurt me baby / Is that why I bleed,” she wallows, trying to untangle her feelings from violent, primal instincts. But, she provides, “Even if the walls come tumbling down, well, you know I won’t make a sound / I’ll lie here dead on the ground just hurtin’ for you / Leave me with the trouble baby / I’ll make it through,” Boots warbles through chunky guitar parts and boozy drums. On “Infatuation,” she continues to stoke the fires of her heart. “You confuse me for a heart that might be waiting,” she spits, matter-of-factly. Later, she lets her lover down gently, chirping, “True love don’t come from just one night / And no I never said it would.”
“It’s So Cruel” buzzes sharply on the eardrums, while “Easy Way Out” barrels along briskly, telling the story of a young woman with a “wild heart,” who remains unconditioned by society or tradition. “Dancing all night long in a Tennessee hall, hiding from Memphis rains / Working on some change to get the juke box playing / She’s just trying to turn her page,” she sings on the most polished composition of the bunch. Conversely, the follow-up “Break My Heart Twice” is one of the most brittle. “Take these tears from my eyes,” she pleads, her lip quivering in between syllables. Boots finds herself hypnotized by a heartbreaker…yet again. “Sometimes it’s hard to learn when the high is worth the hurt / You still got a way with words / So, here we are again,” she wails.
When the dust finally does settle, and she’s processed and managed the pain, she lets go for good. “I don’t give a damn where you’re at or who you’re with, who you’re lovin’ or who you kiss,” she hisses, frizzy guitar and romping piano licking her wounds, on closer “Don’t Give a Damn.” She has risen tougher and wiser and more self-assured. The misery led her here ⎯⎯ to bare witness to the ravages and triumphs of being a woman. Don’t Talk About It feels as modern as it does timeless and presents Boots at her most thrilling.
Don’t Talk About It arrives Friday (Feb. 9) on Bloodshot Records.
Grade: 4 out of 5
Photo Credit: Cal Quinn