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Kevin Russell: Press

Alone Together
Kevin Russell goes solo--with a little help from his friends
By Bruce Robinson
'Mom was a drummer," remembers Kevin Russell. "She'd put on a record and play drums to the record." Despite this role model, maternal percussion was not what drew Russell into making music himself.
"I had two uncles who were wandering minstrels," he continues. "They'd turn up at our house once or twice a year with guitars and do a little concert for us. It was a very special thing, because we wouldn't watch TV. I have a very vivid recollection of gazing at this guitar and falling in love with the shape of it."
Flash forward 30-odd years, shift the scene from San Diego to Sonoma County, and we find Russell still embracing that favorite shape while moving through a prodigious circle of local musical associations. He's a co-founder of the neo-bluegrass band Modern Hicks, an active partner in the semi-electric Lucky Dawgs, a part of the shifting acoustic membership of Laughing Gravy, a rock and roll guitar slinger with Mark McLay and the Dust Devils, and a frequent acoustic sideman to rising singer-songwriter Audrey Auld Mezera.
Amidst all this, he's just released his second solo disc, Trouble in Mind.
Featuring a tasty buffet of Western swing, blues, country-western and bluegrass, the self-produced disc is laced with relentlessly tasteful picking from guitar master Jim Hurst. This allows Russell to concentrate on his warm, unaffected vocals, which often branch into multiple harmony parts. "In some ways, it's not that different from the Hicks," he offers modestly, "just a whole lot of me."
Of course, Russell was always a key component of that quintet, which grew out of a series of jam sessions in his living room in the mid-'90s. "We started playing different kinds of music together--country, rock, bluegrass, swing--all kinds of things," recalls mandolinist Lane Bowen, who had been in another band with Russell and current Modern Hicks bass player Ted Dutcher back in the early 1980s. "Somewhere along the line, we met Gina and it all came together from that."
That would be Gina Blaber, who came to the group by way of Libana, a Boston-based women's chorus that specialized in Eastern music. As the living-room sessions coalesced into an active band ("We just kind of impressed ourselves," Russell chuckles), they began to perform in public. "We did things at A'roma Roasters where you'd be competing with the coffee machines to do your tender ballads," she laughs.
A demo disc intended to showcase the group for other booking dates became the first Modern Hicks CD in 1999. Out Among the Stars is a 15-song showcase of their favorites from such songwriters as Jesse Winchester, Guy Clark and Gillian Welch. "There wasn't much planning that went into it," Blaber admits. "We were delighted that it actually became a CD." It also opened doors. "Instantly, festival were interested in us," Russell says, including California's high mountain Strawberry Festival, which he estimates he had visited eight to 10 times as a paying customer.
Tornado Alley was a more polished follow-up CD two years later, on which original songs began to emerge, a trend that flowered even more fully on last year's third Hicks disc, Under a Stormy Sky. "That's really me coming out as a songwriter," Russell says of his two contributions. "Settle Down With the Blues" is a minor-key swing number, while "Solid Wrong" offers an environmental commentary with a crisp up-tempo track. But when it was time for the new solo disc, there were no more new songs.
"I love writing, I just wish it came more easily for me," Russell sighs.
Teaming with Ted Dutcher, drummer Dan Ransford (a sometime Hicks collaborator) and Chip Dunbar on mandolin--an ensemble billed as Under the Radar--Russell has a CD release party slated for Studio E on July 9 and is looking to take the act farther afield as opportunities arise.
Those dates won't conflict with the Modern Hicks, who are "on a bit of a hiatus" as two of the five households have young children now. He's looking at that as an opportunity rather than a setback. "I'm a lot more focused" on making music now, he adds, despite supporting a successful day-job practice as a psychotherapist. "In the beginning we were lackadaisical and relaxed," he grins. "Now I'm very mindful of how to use the time."
Bruce Robinson - The Bohemian
Review of Trouble In Mind
Joe Falletta, Bluegrass Now 
May 23, 2005
It always amazes me that Kevin Russell is still self-produced. Kevin’s technique in a variety of styles is always exciting, his selection of songs exceptional, his vocals very smooth and evocative, instrumental work and line-up of musicians very much equal to the diversity of material he performs. Each CD is a gem, better than the previous, and leaving the listener anxiously awaiting the next. Kevin is one commanding talent; that he hasn’t yet been picked up by a big label by now is unthinkable.
Joining Kevin again are two-time IBMA Guitar Player of the Year Jim Hurst and five-time IBMA Bass Player of the Year Missy Raines, bringing us another wonderful collection of more of Kevin’s favorites. There’s an excellent soft-rock treatment of Woody Guthrie’s "Pastures Of Plenty" and a gorgeous arrangement of the Merle Haggard hit, "California Cottonfields." The opener "Head South" is a fine western swing piece sung in Kevin’s very silky baritone and accompanied by Jim’s butter-smooth jazz guitar chording and lead work. That one’s followed by Jesse Winchester’s "Wander My Way Home" with its driving boogie-woogie beat. The title cut is a shuffling blues from 1936 by jazzman Richard M. Jones, done western swing. From there it only gets better with Jimmie Rodger’s classic "California Blues," Kevin showing of a first-rate yodel and fine vocal harmony. Kevin tones it down nicely with "I’ll Be Turning To You," a romantic folk-rock song by Kieran Kane, and "Point Of View," with its very stirring, very emotive lyrics, both accompanied by Jim’s exceptional guitar work. These would both be worth the price of the CD alone; and there’s another dozen excellent cuts on this CD. Just when you think you have him pegged, he nails you with a very soulful calypso number, "Do You Want My Job?" with its lament of oppression and toxic pollution.
I’ve had the very real pleasure of enjoying and reviewing Kevin’s music for a few years now. Swing, country, bluegrass, jazz, blues, rock, his musical tastes have broadened my own very nicely. Highly recommended! You just don’t run across a talent like this every day.
Joe Falletta - Bluegrass Now!
Review of You Don't Know Me 
Mike Thomas, Pacific Sun 
January 2003
From Santa Rosa's Jackalope Records comes You Don't Know Me, the debut solo release by superb Sonoma County guitarist Kevin Russell. Known these days primarily for his acoustic work with Modern Hicks, a stellar contemporary bluegrass band, Russell also plugs in with roots-rockers Stupid White People and Laughing Gravy. (Both of the latter bands also feature Jackalope label-mate Doug Jayne.) On You Don't Know Me, the versatile axeman mostly showcases his mellower instrumental side with a varied basket of folk, country and cowboy swing covers and originals. In the process he emerges as a more than capable lead vocalist and songwriter, contributing three strong tracks to the set list. An impressive roster of studio guests includes bluegrass heavies Jim Hurst (guitar), Missy Raines (bass), Laurie Lewis (fiddle) and Tom Rozum (mandolin), not to mention peerless pedal steel pilots Joe Goldmark and Bobby Black. Backup singers include Gina Blaber and Layne Bowen from Modern Hicks and Solid Air's Allegra Broughton. What we've got here is quite the roadhouse combo platter. The crack crew cooks low-key but limber on Kieran Kane's haunting “Greener Pastures” and Chuck Berry's “Nadine”, then shifts gears to swing like the dickens on “Get the Hell Out of Dodge”, “Cadillacin’ Model A” and “I Like It”. Russell's “Just a Matter of Time” cuts a steamin’ slice of straight-up honky-tonk, and in the aching ballad department he does ample justice to the Flying Burrito Brothers’ “Hot Burrito #1” and the title tune, a jukebox country standard. Naturally, his fret work is nimble and nasty throughout. Get to know him.
Mike Thomas - Pacific Sun
Bill Frater, Freight Train Boogie
Kevin Russell ****
You Don’t Know Me
Not to be confused with “Kev” Russell from The Gourds, this Kevin Russell is from the Northern California contemporary bluegrass band, Modern Hicks, as well as friend and occasional CD reviewer for this very website. Despite all that, he has a good idea of what makes an entertaining and quite listenable CD. He has it all, solid original songs amongst some well chosen covers by some excellent songwriters. He covers everyone from Walter Hyatt and Kieran Kane to Cindy Walker and Chuck Berry. The musical styles are virtually a travelogue of acoustic Americana; folk, country & western swing, country and bluegrass are all represented handily. He enlisted many of his musical heroes like Laurie Lewis, Jim Hurst, Missy Raines, Joe Goldmark, Bobby Black & Tony Marcus. So other than the unfortunate name thing, this is a great album that is worth looking for.

Bill Frater/Freight Train Boogie
You Don’t Know Me... (Jackalope)
Unfortunately, there is no school to help erstwhile music journalists polish their craft. Most of us are frustrated musicians or just writers who have found themselves writing music reviews to help pay the rent or to satisfy some unfathomable music jones unquenchable in any other way. I fall somewhere in between, I am indeed a frustrated musician and I do write about other topics as well. But, in my case, you have to factor in an overwhelming love of music and a feeling that analyzing music in this way is worthy in and of itself. Usually, before writing a review, I listen to an album three or four times to get a full appreciation of it. Often, while listening, I will peruse the liner notes or check out a bio of the artist. In this case, I lost the info pertaining to this disc and just had to go off the music itself. How surprised I was, after searching the web to find info on Russell, to find out he is also a writer - a writer for this very same website. Now, after listening, I have realised his take on being a writer may be vastly different from mine. Far from being a frustrated musician, Russell is a very accomplished one, playing with several bands and finding additional time to create this fine CD. A mixture of country and jazz with a few bluegrass touches, I can truthfully say this CD is wonderful and not feel like I am doing him any favor at all. Russell mixes in a bunch of classics (Chuck Berry's "Nadine", Gram Parson's "Hot Burrito #1", and Eddy Arnold's classic "You Don't Know Me" to name three) with his more country-flavored originals and all are great. Russell's guitar work is tasteful and memorable while his vocals are plaintive enough to bring out the deep emotion in his songs and serves even better when he interprets others'. Great music from a fellow writer! Makes me so jealous I may have to do one........nah, I wouldn't want to inflict that on anybody. Buy Russell's instead and maybe I'll keep my tortured songs to myself!
Scott Harwood, Freight Train Boogie
Village Records Hunting Guide, March 2003
Kevin Russell 
You Don’t Know Me
Russell is of course the leader of the great contemporary bluegrass band the Modern Hicks. This mostly laid back set is a great companion piece the Rick Shea-Brantley Kearns disc from last year. Russell gets some top shelf help from Laurie Lewis, Tom Rozum and Joe Goldmark on this solo debut. Russell covers some songs you'll know 
like "Nadine", Hot Burrito #1", "Greener Pastures" and the title track. He also sneaks in three new originals that blend in quite nicely.

from Village Records Hunting Guide March 2003
Mary Tilson, KPFA
Kevin Russell
You Don’t Know Me
“A very, very fine album. I would describe it as a country bluegrass-tinged album with really fine originals and beautiful covers. Kevin has a great voice”. Mary Tilson, KPFA

Ray Edlund, KPFA
Kevin Russell
You Don’t Know Me
“Kevin departs from his Modern Hicks style & we find he’s an incredibly talented songwriter and player. He’s grouped together a fine bunch of musician’s. I have to be honest, it’s not bluegrass, but it’s incredible country, singer-songwriter stuff. It’s great! I can back it 100%, I love it.” Ray Edlund, KPFA
Mary Tilson/Ray Edlund - KPFA radio