Artist: The Russell Leon Band
Album: If Red was Green
Genre: Art-Rock, Progressive Rock, Rock
If it’s one thing that stands out in my mind about Canadian musicians, it’s that they’re great singer/songwriters. In fact, I think this is the one group of musicians with the most amount of honest, heart-felt talent in this country. Canada produces great songwriters, period!
For some strange reason, I always have more fun when I review non-rock n roll albums, and this one by the Russell Leon band is as mixed up as one can get – it’s as fresh and inspiring as spring. ‘If Red was Green’ is the debut full-length release by this band and was recorded at the Rogue Studios in Toronto and produced by Geoffrey McPeek.
Led by Russell Leon on guitars and vocals, the band comprises Larry Kline on drums, Jeff Hass on bass, Ansgar Schroer handling the role of harmonica, percussion and congas, Keith Reid on saxophone and Brian Elkin in charge of trumpet. The music is a subliminal blend of jazz, blues, funk and eclectic folk songs (in a Celtic vein). The odd thing, this album had such a natural flow, no song was out of place.
Russell has a sweet, innocent voice - instantly likeable, clear and clean, a cross between the 60s and 80s. The music fits his voice and vice versa.
‘I want your love’ is a semi-swing number, with horns following the vocal lines throughout the verse and chorus, complete with a trumpet solo. ‘Loopy’ has a mellow, laid back groove, with exquisite use of wah on the guitars and one heck of a funky organ groove.
‘The Beginning of the end’ is a beautiful folk song, with a chorus that’s ripe for singing along. Then came ‘Cuba’, a track laced with Latin flavour. ‘Eternity’ is a soft number, with lap steel guitar, it’s a shift from the rest of the album, but it’s a keeper for sure.
‘The Wild’ is a reggae number, and speaks of the environment. The sax fits alongside the one-drop beat, the guitar hits a chord, the delay rings out, very reminiscent of the early ‘rockers’ and ‘rock-steady’ style of Jamaican music.
‘Troubadour’ is a great folk song; the use of the Irish whistle here is just the icing on the cake, there’s also the Institute of Child Study Children’s choir who provided great back-up vocals of a timeless innocence. Definitely one of my favourites on the album.
Just when I thought I heard it all on this record, up came ‘Scenester’ – with such an overdrive on the guitar, one cool, unorthodox riff, intermingled with a few up-strums, and a chromatic descend for the chorus that shifts to a whole new key just to descend again. And to top it off, Russell rattles off a barrage of lyrics is a rather rebellious fashion.
The album closes with another Celtic-influenced folk song, it seems only fitting. I don’t know how these guys managed to blend guitar, congas, horns, organ, lap steel and an Irish whistle so well together (ok well, not in every song), but they did, and the album is overpowering and infectious like an allergy.
In addition to having a busy performance schedule, Russell also produces and hosts Songwriters Unite! a collective of more than 400 singer/songwriters across North America. Russell spent his early years traveling across Canada and the US, and when he was six, his family settled in the Ottawa valley where he gained a true appreciation for the arts.
Russell moved to Toronto to study music at YorkUniversity, and he soon became immersed in the scene while busking on the streets and playing in clubs. He released a self-titled debut EP in 2000.
Getting people involved in his music is key for Russell, making that connection with a live audience is the ultimate test. Having never heard of the Russell Leon band before, I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed listening to their debut release over and over again, and I hope to catch them soon, live and personal.