I appreciate artists, in any field, who are willing to push their audience. When I say push, however, I don’t mean getting up in their face and exuding nothing but aggression as they dress us down for perceived failures. What I mean, instead, are artists who engage the mind every bit as much as the body, specific to music, and Woody Russell’s work meets that goal. His latest release is the three-song EP he entitles This is Son Solitaire and the three tracks comprising its running order fit the bill without ever alienating listeners. Serious music fans will come away from hearing this EP invigorated, if not inspired.
“Swinging for the Fences” is a song that engages with you. Russell closes any customary distance between the artist and the audience with an intimate yet forceful arrangement that stays close to listeners for the song’s entirety. The positive, upbeat subject matter of the song gets further robust treatment from Russell’s bell-clear voice that soars with vigorous life through each line of the song. The thunderous drumming that pushes the song toward its inevitable conclusion is definitely one of the song’s high points and is difficult to forget.
He moves to explore one of the EP’s dominant themes with the song “Lifeboat”. It’s a reflection on our desire for safe harbor in a tumultuous world that Russell further reflects with the song’s arrangement. Everything seems to be teetering on the brink of upheaval, yet it’s merely a suggestion, as Russell keeps the song on a definite course from its beginning. There’s plenty of tension arising from this track, however, and it keeps listeners on the edge of their seat throughout the track.
“Straight Space (Unhinged)” closes This is Son Solitaire. Russell reaches for a bit of Dylan-esque wordplay with this track while dispensing with any needless ostentatious flights of surrealism along the way. It’s a lyrical portrayal of a world in disarray with love as the only respite as the walls collapse all around. The same hard-driving percussion defining the earlier duo of songs makes its presence felt again and this fiery rhythm section attack never relents. There’s an abundance of musical imagination driving performances such as this.
I hear that same imagination throughout This is Son Solitaire. Russell writes, records, and performs music with the same ease he brings to breathing and each of the EP’s three songs sound as if they were floating in the ether waiting for someone to come pluck them out and set them down for posterity. Posterity will inevitably judge these tracks favorably.
Woody Russell, in my view, is reaching for far more than the disposable. His sense of songcraft goes beyond the numerous bells and whistles adorning these tracks. Strip away the technological and production gloss and you still have three outstanding and infinitely sturdy compositions with lyrical substance to match. This is Son Solitaire isn’t a sprawling work that requires wrestling with its long reach. Instead, Woody Russell has written and recorded an immediate and bracing musical journey that invites everyone to join.