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Reba Russell Band - Eight
13 tracks; 55:30 minutes; Library Quality
Styles: Contemporary Blues, Chicago Blues, Soulful ballads
Just ask James Cotton, Jimmy Thackery, Blues Revue editor Art Tipaldi or any of a host of other Blues insiders. They will tell you that if you have not caught up with Reba Russell and her band, then you are missing out on an accomplished vocalist who’s ability to emote from every fiber is something special! Reba Russell is the Blue Eyed Queen of Memphis having released seven previous CDs and having sung with everyone - including B.B. King on the U2 “Rattle and Hum” CD/DVD.
Reba is successfully, and fiercely, independent once rejecting a record company deal because she knew she could do it herself. She is sincere with straight forward honesty. In an earlier interview, she was less pretentious than any artist I have ever interviewed or met!
My WKCC Friends of the Blues Radio Show co-host D’Arcy “Shuffle Shoes” Ballinger, Blues fan Doug “Harpdog Hank” Golowski, and I listened to the new CD, “Eight,” as we drove to Hooterville to see the Kentucky Headhunters. Some of the caught thoughts:
Harpdog Hank: “Reba has at least one attitude song on every CD where she is trying to make a point.”
Shuffle Shoes: “As soft as she is and soft-touched, Reba Russell is one for sure that you got to say, ‘Don’t mistake kindness for weakness!’”
What they are talking about is Russell’s two sides, not unlike the Bible story of Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple: A heart full of love, yes; but, never a push over. For example, check these song titles: “Asshole,” Almost a Memory,” “You’re Hell,” and the sad indictment of a turncoat friend, “Rust.”
The album opens with a mid tempo gentle shuffle, “Almost a Memory.” Josh Roberts, who plays all guitars on the CD, is really creative here. Already known for rowdy slide guitar, his smooth and jazzy playing shows his maturity. Robert “Nighthawk” Tooms, a very integral part of the band, also takes a mid-song solo - a bouncy tour on the electric piano.
Next up, “Tender to Me” is a slow ballad with guitar as clear as can be. Reba edges out the pleading in the lead vocal and also does all backing vocals.
Knowing how to deftly pace a record, Reba and her co-producer Dawn Hopkins (together known as “Blue Eyed Bitches Productions”) put “Good Woman’s Gone” in the third track. Here Josh Roberts launches this upbeat killer with that aforementioned nasty slide guitar while Reba’s husband Wayne Russell plucks bass strings in conjunction with his rhythm room partner Doug McMinn on drums. “Nighthhawk” Tooms gets his first chance to honk away on harmonica as well as pounding steady notes on piano. This song elicited these comments:
Shuffle Shoes: “The whole band, as a unit, is more important that most operations,”
Harpdog Hank: “They are all playing like one – like a family.” As proof of the unified spirit, the liner notes include this quote from Reba to the band, “You are the best band in the whole world!”
Across the album, Reba rips on the six originals and interprets-like-she-owns six covers.
“Soul Wreckin’ Saturday” by J.A. “Mojo” Schicke (a former band guitarist) is given the soul baring treatment the song demands. Catchy-chorused “Asshole” by Mark Unobsky was not chosen to aim at any one person; it is a scatter-gun approach to anyone where the shoe fits. Reba’s song “You’re Hell” becomes the two word description for a mistake-of-a-man the narrator has allowed into her life, begging the question, “How does a person in a solid loving relationship like Reba with Wayne get the inspiration for such a song?” Wayne penned “Love Court” which has his bass leading the band into some funky territory.
The CD ends with the oddest of songs, “Hitler Lives,” by Mcenery and Crouch. The late Jim Dickinson gives a 59 second introduction (originally heard on “Beale Street Caravan”) explaining the song is NOT about Hitler. Instead, when people “hate their fellow man,” then “Hitler Lives.”
The CD is titled “Eight.” That number is a testimony to Reba Russell’s muse and drive, with Wayne Russell as her wheel man. Add this treasure to your library as either your next Reba Russell Band CD or your first.
Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and longtime Blues Blast Magazine contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and at www.wkccradio.org in Kankakee, IL.
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