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A Rushed Russell?
on 6 May 2013
For fans of Alice Russell the news that she was going to issue a new album via the Tru Thoughts imprint would have been extremely welcome, with the songstress last having been heard (and seen) on the 2012 disc 'Look Around The Corner', in conjunction with Quantic (aka Will Holland) and the Combo Babaro. This saw the diminutive Russell taking up vocal duties against a sonic tapestry referencing Latin influences, with the highlight undoubtedly being the driving 'Magdalena', a firm favourite across UK radio. Here Russell returns as a solo artist, yet (as ever) she remains generously supportive in acknowledging her fellow musicians who make the recording possible. 'I can't do this all by myself', she writes, 'And for that magic circle of people in my life, I am eternally grateful'. The question is, should the listener be equally supportive of this new solo project?
The album opens with the driving 'A To Z', a short interlude (1:31) that presents a vocal affirmation of Russell using the alphabet (hence the title) as a trigger for word association. This soon gives way to 'Heartbreaker' (Part 2), the sequel to the heavily trailed single from the album, which features a wonderfully delivered vocal from Russell over a sparse guitar inflected interlude (3:30), which sounds like a coda to the original song. This is followed by the first 'fully formed' song, 'For A While', opening with a hesitant keyboard signature that is slowly joined by a vocal confidently riding the electronically driven groove, an attempt to fuse the twitching production of 2013 to a voice influenced by the sound of an earlier era. 'Heartbreaker' follows, allowing Russell to showcase the undoubted power of her voice, yet moving to a more traditional soul influenced sound, making it clear why this was chosen as the lead single for the album, offering a complete demonstration and exposition of Russell's talents. 'Hard & Strong' offers a move away from soul to a Rock driven narrative. The title track 'To Dust' moves back to a soul influenced driving groove, before giving way to 'I Loved You', suggesting the church and the power of the spiritual, yet moved to discourse the secular. 'Twin Peaks' takes the pace down, with a simple bassline underpinning Russells's resonant vocal accompanied by light brass and keyboard work.
'Heartbreaker Interlude' (1:16) offers a further addition to the 'Heartbreaker' opus before 'Let Go' (Breakdown) opens with a beat driven affair, most fully realised in the coda, in which the influence of Hip Hop can be most clearly heard. 'Drinking Song' references the squelching production style prevalent in some quarters, and the album concludes with the bonus track 'Different'.
So. Do you buy?
No one could deny the fact of Russell's talent, a voice that captures the listener with a raw emotion that can be enthralling and entertaining. This is a woman who has clearly listened to, and absorbed the influence of, Black female vocalists, seeking to explore the sound of soul with her own unique twist. Listening to this album an impression quickly develops of a disjointed production that is never quite worthy of the voice, attempting to encapsulate soul whilst ranging a little too widely, and this isn't helped by the fact of the musical interludes and general structure of the track list. 'Heartbreaker' equates to over 8 minutes of an (already) short album, and one is left with the impression that this is a project that has not been given enough time to be fully realised, feeling (and sounding) like an EP.
The Tru Thoughts label in Brighton has a record of being quirky and committed to advancing a progressive musical groove, yet given the voice of a superb vocalist it appears to have momentarily foundered, and you would be advised to hear the more fully developed earlier albums to appreciate the Alice Russell voice (her cover of 'Crazy' on 'Pot Of Gold' is superb). That Russell has talent is undeniable, but this is may not be the best entry point for listeners new to her voice.