Woody Russell’s new EP This is Son Solitaire reaffirms his growing standing as one of modern popular music’s most idiosyncratic writers and performers. The twists and turns layered throughout the arrangements of the EP’s three songs are inexhaustible and glow with hearty creative energies. Self-produced, This is Son Solitaire has production attributes that reach out and grab the audience rather than beckoning them to join the sonic fray and there isn’t a single instance of filler weighing down the release. These are songs popping and percolating with life from the first note to the last.
It gets off to an exemplary start with the first song. “Swinging for the Fences” implies that this is an ambitious song and there’s evidence supporting this that you’ll hear along the way. It certainly doesn’t allow you any chance to deny its presence. Drums like cannon shots lay down thunderous grooves and the complementary bass digs deep into an undeniable yet fluid groove. It’s a song with many faces without ever belaboring its point to epic lengths. He will startle some with the jagged, blood-drawing guitar work present during the song’s second half. It provides quite a contrast with the song’s hopeful message.
After that salvo of glad tidings, however, “Lifeboat” takes us in a different direction. There’s a specter of desperation hanging over the EP’s remaining two songs that Russell reflects in his impassioned singing here. The vocals further elevate the song’s already superb words. You get the distinct feeling listening to this track that Russell began the recording process for this release with a firm idea of what he wanted the EP to “say” and songs such as this show that he accomplished that goal.
The preceding two tracks, however, don’t make that anywhere near as apparent as the EP’s final number does. “Straight Space (Unhinged)” is a song that any adult listener can relate to as it depicts a world bursting with disarray and our fledgling attempts to keep an even keel as everything rots around us. What’s the one thing we can hang onto? Russell says it’s love and, after hearing this track, you’re inclined to believe him. It brings This is Son Solitaire to a momentous conclusion without ever overstepping its mandate.
This is a brief work, no doubt, but it makes an impact. Woody Russell has fine-tuned each of the EP’s three compositions to share the same page while hitting listeners in a distinct fashion each time out. The diversity of This is Son Solitaire is just as important as its consistency.
It’s another rung up the ladder for Woody Russell. The Austin, Texas-based singer/songwriter has hit upon a signature sound and approach that’s sure to carry him even higher. This is Son Solitaire shows a musical artist arguably working at the peak of his powers, but it’s far from the final word. There are greater triumphs ahead for this unique talent. First-time listeners to Russell’s gifts will surely return for more and he’ll be happy to oblige. Listeners such as myself will be happy to continue listening.