There is currently a plethora of female vocalists tearing up the UK, and indeed international, music scenes. Big of voice, strong of character, no matter what you think of the actual music there is no denying that these multi-talented female musicians are currently ruling the roost. We had Amy Winehouse, now we have Adele. Coming up strong on the outside, Brit darling Emeli Sandé is sweeping all before her, and taking her first, and hugely acclaimed steps we have Laura Mvula. And this is just the very tip of the iceberg, which much, much more going on underneath the surface.
What is surprising is that the magnificent Alice Russell has failed to break into the top tier of songwriters and performers. To Dust is her fifth solo album in a little over a decade but in this time she has had some notable collaborations with A leaguers such as David Byrne and the Roots, but she has really found her muse with fellow Brit Quantic who is now based in Colombia, which was evidenced in one of the albums of last year, their funk, soul and cumbia classic Look Around the Corner.
To Dust is Russell’s first album since 2008’s Pot of Gold and picks up where that album left off. There are no concessions to new fads or gimmicks in order to attract a wider crowd for the sake of it, just a great set of songs, sung by one the best soul singers on the planet, backed by a band that has a tight groove but one that lets Russell express herself. It would have been so easy for Russell to pander to the masses and make more pop or radio friendly (to my ears this is exactly what I’d like to be hearing blaring out of my radio!) but there is something old school about her approach to music which appeals to her fan base.
This is not to say that her music doesn’t evolve or change, because it does, but it is on her terms and you sense sooner or later the rest of the world will wake up to Alice Russell. Of course then I’ll be in a state of anxiety worrying ‘they’ will change her!
To Dust opens with “A to Z” and a lovely deep drum backbeat and Russell’s effortless voice which instantly commands the listeners attention. It’s a short song which leads into “Heartbreaker Part 2”, a stone cold neo soul classic. Bizarrely it appears two tracks before the single release of the album, “Heartbreaker”. Both tracks are wonderful, “Heartbreaker Part 2” more stripped back, more contemporary soul, whereas “Heartbreaker” has a more ’60s, Dusty Springfield type feel to it, Russell pushes her voice and emotions but maintains control, and the drumming on this track is just fantastic.
“Hard and Strong” has a Prince like falsetto and instrumentation vibe, another example of Russell’s approach to modern soul music, there is a real attitude to this song yet a danceable quality and a track I‘d love to hear as an a capella version. “I Loved You” has a gospel soul quality and again the control of Russell’s voice is stunning. She imbues tension, emotion and sincerity, all the qualities you expect, and get, from the great soul singers of the past. Seriously, you could plonk Alice Russell into any era from the past 50 years and she would stand out and be considered an equal such is the power and resonance of her voice.
“Let Go” just about nails the album, a country soul track (at least with the first few guitar bars!) with some sort of descending bass going on, lots of ‘woos’ and Alice’s sharp as a razor vocals again killing it and then in comes a semi flamenco guitar break. Brilliant, and a guaranteed floor filler in some of the cooler clubs you may visit this year (or just to dance to in front of your mirror!).
This album is another addition to Alice Russell’s impeccable back catalogue. You do wonder how long it will be before the rest of the world catches on, or maybe they won’t. For Russell is an old school musician. It’s about the music, about being true to her beliefs and not seeking quick fix solutions for short-term gains.
Alice Russell is a true soul diva.