Jamie Russell, Santa Fe Sessions
Playing like a compilation of loosely affiliated country music tropes and tracks, British musician/Santa Fe transplant Jamie Russell’s new release, Santa Fe Sessions, seems like an impressive collaboration of Frogville Records favorites at first. But what begins as an admittedly musically impressive tracklist quickly devolves into a confusing set of songs punctuated by Russell’s apparent desperation to rhyme at all times with all—and I mean all—lyrics.
Sessions showcases some of the finest talents in town, and nobody is arguing over Jamie Russell’s obvious talent or potential as a singer-songwriter. Thematically and lyrically however, Sessions struggles from any perceivable grand plan. Oh, you can expect country-rock for sure, but there are also flamenco-style numbers, James Taylor-ish ballads and even a super-weird version of “Sweet Chariot” (are white people even supposed to sing this song!?) in a set list with no apparent connection beyond that the songs are all on the same record. Lyrics like, “At the end of the day he had so much to say but it all drifted away,” paint the picture of a songwriter who probably has a whole lot of feelings but maybe a difficult time getting them out in any way short of simple information exchange.
Vocal support from the amazing Felecia Ford, incredible harmonica sections from musician/tattooer Prakash Spex, gorgeous fiddle from Karina Wilson and plenty of other Frogville champs give Santa Fe Sessions a definite boost, but Russell himself seems to be the weak link overall. This isn’t to say there aren’t some great songs here. “Colourblind” strays from Russell’s apparent style and seems more relaxed and organic, and “The Flame” conjures up visions of Lynyrd Skynyrd with a subtly beautiful electric guitar flourish reminiscent of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” (not kidding). Russell’s ability to bring together incredible talent and his willingness to experiment in a variety of stylistic areas absolutely justifies an honorable mention. That said, it should be more interesting to see what he does next in the hopes that a subsequent release will prove a more focused and cohesive package.
Mark Landau, How You Were
Landau unceremoniously made himself known at the recent Business of Music Summit presented by New Mexico Lawyers for the Arts. “I truly believe my music has the power to change the world,” he said softly into a microphone in a room full of doubtful music fans and industry pros. He was immediately dismissed as crazy by all who took notice, but this may have been a mistake. How You Were probably won’t change the world, and there are some serious lyrical groaners like on “Fly To Me” when he invites us in by saying, “Like a skier on his mountain/Like a dolphin cleaves the seas.” Yikes. And despite the inauspicious beginning and a highly noticeable inconsistent and amateur recording quality, Landau proves a capable pianist, a more than solid guitarist and, perhaps more importantly, a super passionate musician. Shades of The Beatles and Elton John peek out from behind Landau’s seemingly vast love for whomsoever these songs may have been inspired by. And despite a shaky grasp when it comes to in-key vocal work, Landau is more melodically gifted than maybe even he realizes. If there is any song that could be considered single material, “The Siren’s Call” is it. Recalling the poetic/lyrical brilliance of Don McLean, there is an unmistakable passion and David Bowie-caliber of catchiness found on this number, and it proves that it’s only fair to give everyone a chance, even if it’s an aging musician from a small town who records piano rock in his spare time.