The first time I heard Russ Bell was a guitarist who was just starting to play live backing a good friend of mine, legendary Irish balladist Vince Colgan. He was, predictably, a little hesitant, but seemed determined enough to improve.
A few years later, he entered a songwriter contest that I was judging. His stuff was cool, but it turns out there were two phenomenal songwriters in the contest who walked away with the top prizes.
Well, Russ has just released his second CD, aptly titled “Russ Bell”, and to say he’s come a long way as a singer, guitarist and songwriter is like saying Aaron Judge is a big guy. This 10-song disc is a stellar achievement, offering a professional-sounding collection of well-performed all-original tracks.
The record was recorded at home, with Bell playing and singing all parts (except Bill Jardinella’s bass part on the initial track).
A common problem with home recordings is a tendency towards sound similarity, but Bell manages to avoid this trap, with variations in vocal sound and guitar sound from track to track, as well as a diversity stylistic.
The CD kicks off fun with “Beer Cans,” a catchy, fun honky-tonk number about an evening spent with friends and paid off with a hangover the next morning.
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In another kind of C&W vein, “Rolling Stone” describes reconnecting with a childhood best friend after many years, while “Stormy Thoughts” wouldn’t sound out of place on a Dylan debut album.
Other moments that stood out for me were the infectious hook of “Never Enough” and “Crisis,” a review of estrangement from a toxic relationship.
Sometimes the genesis of a song isn’t obvious, sprouting the most unlikely seeds.
“A lot of my song ideas come from conversations I have with my family or my friends. I’m always looking for that statement that we sometimes make unknowingly, and then I’m looking for how I can turn it into a song,” explains Bell. “As a songwriter, I like to tell stories, sometimes with a twist. Other times I like to get the listener to understand what the song is about.
One of the smartest choices Russ made while recording this album was to entrust well-known recording engineer Bob Acquaviva with the finishing touches.
“Working with Bob, getting his advice was so much fun and such a learning experience,” notes Bell. “Bob is a master at perfecting tracks from my raw ideas.”
“Russ Bell” is available locally at Reimagine Records, Records and More at the Big Apple Plaza, Off Center Records in downtown Utica and at Chef’s Express where a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Arc Oneida Lewis Chapter. The songs are also available on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, Pandora and other streaming services.