British soul diva, Alice Russell, has always pushed the art of soul singing into the future.

Since her 2005 debut, My Favourite Letters, she has eschewed the obvious retro stylings of fellow UK soulstresses such as Amy Winehouse (RIP) and Adele in favour of a more taut and synthetic hip-hop groove. This has led to collaborations with Mr Scruff, Quantic, DJ Yoda, Nostalgia 77 as well as David Byrne and NZ funksters Fat Freddy’s Drop.

Under the production eye of her guitarist, producer and Soul mate TM Juke (known to his mother as Alex Cowan) Russell’s four studio albums have put her in a special place artistically – a place where there is nowhere to hide if you don’t have Soul.

Alice_Russell

Just as Damon Albarn’s up-to-the-minute production hints, tips ‘n tricks brought out the beauty and heart of Bobby Womack’s voice on 2012’s The Bravest Man In The Universe, Cowan’s sleek and hard-edged production makes Russell’s newie, To Dust, a stand-out affair.

Her first solo album since 2008’s Pot Of GoldTo Dust seems to have perfected the soul vs production balance – gone are the songs that leaned too far into the beatz or, conversely, too far into over-egged Aretha-worship that irritated on previous releases.

First single ‘Heartbreaker’, is a perfect example. Cowan and Russell mix up elements of soul, pop and hip-hop into a smoothly groovy gumbo – the track’s trés-2013 production (nice panned drum figure throughout) never letting it sink into retro pastiche while the cap-G Gospel vocals keep it cap-R Real. A little later on the album there is a gorgeous ‘Heartbreaker Interlude’ – one minute or so of Russell and her backing singers riffing the ‘Heartbreaker’ hook-chorus over boxy beatzs – tasty.

(Check the video for the single on YOUtube. It stars long-time Russell fan Harry Shearer from The Simpsons and Spinal Tap, and is a beautifully touching little vignette/short story. Worth a watch all the way through, you ADHD kidz).

The Gospel of ‘Heartbreaker’ is just one feel among many though and To Dust has a nice sense of exploration about it. The pugnacious ‘Hard And Strong’ – one of the few modern soul songs to name check British Isles warrior-queen Boadicea – has a Prince-ish kick. The title track ‘To Dust’ brings back the Gospel shouts but now over a driving rock beat.

Torchy groove-ballad ‘I Loved You’ shows how damn good Alice Russell really is – a total command of her voice and all its shadows and light, a complete understanding of the history of her chosen genre and a straight-arrow conception of her style. And in this music, as in everyday life, style (yes, cap-S Style) counts for a lot.Alice_Russell-To_Dust_b

Speaking of working with her musicians, producers and collaborators (‘the boys’) Russell says: At times I think you feel a lot more vulnerable than the band. Generally you have an instrument that you’re translating your emotions through, whereas with the singer, it’s inside of you. There’s nothing to hide behind… Also sometimes when the boys are jamming, there is something about just instrumental jamming. It’s very tight. When you add a voice it changes it into something completely different, going scatting or something in that jazzy root. Sometimes you feel like you’re out of it. Very much with the boys I work with, I’m in it though.”

And on To Dust, Alice Russell is very very ‘in it’.

To Dust will be released worldwide on 22 February 2013 through Brighton-based label, Tru-Thoughts.

Published January 2013 on theorangepress.net

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Comments
  1. […] Album Review: Alice Russell/To Dust – Not that we needed any, but further proof that Harry Shearer is as fantastic as it is humanely possible to be: […]

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