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Album Review: Alice Russell - 'To Dust'

Real, Genuine Soul

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating


Album Review: Alice Russell - 'To Dust'
If Aretha Franklin and the late Teena Marie were somehow able to conceive a love child, that child would likely have a singing voice like that of British Soulbird Alice Russell. And on her latest solo album, Alice, who's one of the UK's more powerful vocalists, continues her role as one of a relative few genuine Soul singers still making full-fledged Soul music. To Dust which was released Feb. 26, 2013 outside the U.S. and will be available April 30 in America, has the fiery vocal passion of Aretha, mixed with the lung capacity of Teena, making it one of the few albums released in recent years where the vocals are always the main attraction and don't take a backseat at any time to super-producers or supporting musicians.

Strong Vocals

Although Soul music went out of vogue in the United States back in the 1980s and has only seen a resurgence in popularity a couple of times since then -- most notably during the neo-Soul movement of the 1990s -- the genre never really fell as far in popularity on the other side of the Atlantic, in the United Kingdom. Although it's not typical to see Soul artists top the charts in the UK these days, a love and respect for the genre can still be heard in the vocal styles of numerous contemporary British artists, including Adele, Joss Stone, Duffy and the late Amy Winehouse, all of whom were born in the 1980s, well after Soul's heyday in America had ended. But out of all the British artists incorporating Soul into their sound, none sounds more authentic or has more of an investment in the sound as Alice Russell. Although she's typically overshadowed by the other, younger singers mentioned above, Alice is arguably just as talented, if not moreso, than any of them.
And on To Dust, she solidifies that standing via song performances that range from very good to outstanding. Among the highlights are "For Awhile" and "Heartbreaker Pt. 2," the sequel to the album's first single. Both are the type of song on which Alice usually excels; they have simple arrangements and utilize the talents of actual musicians in the studio rather than rely on a bunch of production tricks.

Pedestrian Production

If you didn't know better, the first few songs on To Dust would make you think that Alice Russell grew up singing in a church somewhere in the American south, because has the kind of vocal style that melds R&B, Soul and Gospel music in a way that few outside of the South -- and nearly no other British artist -- can or has done. Another good example of this is the first single, "Heartbreaker," a broken hearted love song about the end of a relationship and knowing that after trying your best to make things work, you're now emotionally exhausted and are resigned to the relationship's end. Curiously, it's lower on the tracklisting than the sequel, the above-mentioned "Heartbreaker Pt. 2," on which she vents her feelings about her former beloved after some time has passed. "If a broken heart is what you give, then a broken heart is what you get," she sings.
This is an album that's filled from top to bottom with strong vocal performances, but To Dust as a whole doesn't quite reach the level of greatness of its vocalist because of the song production. Of the 14 songs here, about half work very well sonicly. But the vocalists' dominance tends to be a double-edged sword; Alice's excellence is countered by some very pedestrian -- you might even say bland -- production and instrumentation, with the second single, "Twin Peaks," being a good example. If the backing musicians put as much passion and energy into their work as Alice does here, this would undoubtedly be one of the best albums of the year. But unfortunately, too many times on the album's second half, the unimaginative production results in some mundane tracks.
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