The Look of Lounge

"When we started out, our major goal was to do a regular night at the Holiday Inn," says the Gambler, drummer for Denver's Ruby My Dear. "That would be the pinnacle of success for us."

"And if we really made it," pianist Simon Cushing adds, "a night at the Brown Palace."

The members of Ruby My Dear--the Gambler (aka Patrick McGavock), Cushing (Chris Alaimo), vocalist Sasha Cliche (Hollis Poynter) and bassist Don Martini (Don Jerome)--haven't yet transformed this dream into reality. This super-suave lounge quartet has been delivering velvety cocktail fare in these parts for nearly a year, at coveted venues such as Herb's Hideout and the Bluebird Theater. But despite a glamorous stage show and a smooth way with "Girl From Ipanema," "Night and Day," "Blue Velvet" and other tunes beloved by the kind of night owls who feel that a drink is incomplete without a paper umbrella, a steady gig at one of the city's better hotels has thus far eluded the band.

This Is Lounge, Ruby's aptly titled cassette, underlines the injustice of this situation. The recording's seventeen songs--including favorites such as "Angel Eyes" and "When Sunny Gets Blue"--immediately conjure up images of dim, smoke-filled bars, black-sequined dresses and olive-friendly libations (shaken, not stirred). In short, it's the sort of mellow magic that drives the blue-haired country-club types wild.

Yet Ruby My Dear also has been embraced by the Denver contingent of the Cocktail Nation, a small but growing sect of Generation Xers who've had their lives changed by the ultracheesy/ultracool music of Tony Bennett, Tom Jones and Esquivel. These flashy, under-thirty hipsters make up a large part of the act's audience, but Cushing (a ten-year veteran of lounge culture) insists that his interest in the music transcends trendiness. As he puts it, "We all have a mutual affection for this type of music. These sappy love songs. These cocktail-party tinklers. So now that it's kind of in vogue, it's really a ripe opportunity for us. But it's not like, 'Oh, the lounge thing is hip. We've got to play lounge music.' We've always liked it."

That's not to suggest that Cushing and company are musically one-dimensional. Prior to joining Ruby, the Gambler beat the skins for the now-defunct Shrinking Violets and the still-rocking Capitol Hillbillies. Martini continues to appear with the latter band, as well as the Moon Doggies, an enigmatic surf trio. As for Cliche, she's a onetime member of the Woos, an all-female new-wave combo that disbanded in the mid-Eighties.

The players' collective passion for all manner of popular music permeates Ruby's sound: In recent months, the combo has added easy-listening versions of Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box" and the Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun" to its set. In Cliche's mind, Kurt Cobain and Frank Sinatra are equally brilliant. "We're not doing this in answer to grunge--like we're sick of the music that's out there and this is our way of doing something different," she explains. "We love that kind of music, too. We just think there's a lot of different ways to look at a piece of music."

"You can even do Barry Manilow really cool if you want to, because the fundamentals are there," the Gambler interjects. "His melodies are great. He just happens to be really weird."

"Yeah," adds Martini, laughing. "I never thought I'd be in a band that plays Barry Manilow and like itEbut here I am."

Unfortunately, local promoters aren't quite so open-minded. Although the foursome has managed to draw some substantial audiences, many club owners still haven't quite caught on to the band's Sergio Mendez-meets-Nine Inch Nails approach. As a result, lining up steady work outside the traditional lounge circuit has been difficult. "We haven't really found our niche just yet," Martini laments. "Part of the problem is that we're not straight-ahead jazz and we're not rock and roll. We're sort of in this in-between place."

"I think we sort of scare people in a way," Cliche notes.
"Yeah," the Gambler pipes up. "When we play, we kind of get this feeling that people are looking at each other and going, 'Is this cool? Is it all right to like this?'"

Whether weary travelers who stop by the piano bar on their way to bed will be any more receptive to this brand of torchy grunge remains to be seen, but the performers in Ruby My Dear would certainly like to find out. When asked if they would give up their place in the mainstream music community to become an everyday part of the Inn crowd, all four answer with an unequivocal "yes."

"That's our dream," enthuses Cliche. "We want to play an east-to-west stint on I-80. The Holiday Inn tour."

"We'll also play weddings," Cushing chimes in. "And keggers."
Ruby My Dear. 9:30 p.m. Thursday, February 22, Herb's Hideout, 2057 Larimer, $2, 299-9555.

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