Russ Green – City Soul | Album Review

Russ Green – City Soul

Cleopatra Records

10 tracks | 57 minutes

You gotta love an album when you wake up in the morning singing in the opening track “First Thing Smokin” and it puts you in a good mood to begin the day. It could easily be the background for any car insurance company commercial with a motorcycle winding down US 1 Pacific Coast Highway. But Russ Green has not had the good fortune for that to happen to him, yet. He has had to do it the Chicago way. One year at time building his reputation at first as a premier Harmonica player and then adding in his own vocals and writing. The tune is a non-sticky gem popping up in the consciousness just when the spirit lags a little and needs a boost. The album is a love letter to the Windy City where he was born and raised on the west side. City Soul is a nice mix of soul, R&B, blues and blues rock.

It features a select group of the city’s best players on various tunes including: Ricky Nelson (Drums on “Believe in Love”); Eric Bibb (duet) on “Going Down South”; Joe Monroe (Hammond B3) on “Lover Man”; Giles Cory (guitar) and Marvin Little (bass) on “Lint In My Pocket”; and Vince Agwada (slide guitar) on “Something New”. The album was co-produced by Russ and Sam Clayton; engineered by Rick Barnes; and recorded at Rax Trax in Chicago. Russ has won a Blues Music Award for producing a recording for Big Llou Johnson and was one of the harmonica players on the popular album “Chicago Blues Harmonica Project”. He has performed at the prestigious Chicago Blues Festival and many others over the years.  He is just now getting on the map as a featured solo artist with this album which is city slick but gritty in its beneath the surface lyrical content, and truly adventurous in its arrangements.

Green’s influences are the best of the best. He is firmly rooted in the Sugar Blue style of harp (of Rolling Stones “Miss You” fame), but learned to play by listening to Hendrix whose music inspired him the most to move from a career in filmmaking to music by trying to re-create Jimi’s sonic explorations on harmonica. He sings in a nice soulful baritone reminiscent of the incomparable Bill Withers. It does not approach the high bar set by the legend but a good reference point would be “Grandma’s Hands”. Lou Rawls comes to mind as well. Not bad company in the least with ample room to grow.

All ten tracks are different from each other. Clocking in at 8 minutes “The Edge” with a solo harp intro that shows off his varied skill set of acrobatic trills and runs with a classic green bullet overdriven honking sound. That electric harp sound is the standard today and it serves him well. The old breathy Sonny Terry back porch style Piedmont blues harp is only evident on “Going Down South” but shows Russ can do it all. Maybe the use of a wider variety of harp tones in the future will further showcase his virtuosity and he’ll achieve greater acclaim. The sky is the limit with this artist. What Jr. Wells said about Sonny Boy Williamson II can be said about Russ Green: “His music will linger in your heart.”

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