The folk, roots, and world music magazine
Issue No. 57 Spring, 2013
Crazy Shades of Blue (Ark Road)
To comment on the caliber of Russ Kelley’s vocals after his untimely brush with career-threatening throat surgery would only make sense had I known what he sounded like before. Taking it as it lays, Crazy Shades of Blue Kelley’s first post-op recording and it’s taken him some time to get the wobble out of his legs. The good news is that the resulting 10 track recording is reminiscent of the warm, cuppa-coffee world of Ray Materick, Willie P. Bennett and, for my money, Harry Chapin.
Kelley owns a slight rasp and one gets the feeling he’s over-extending his reach in his approach. He sings like he’s stretching to get there, not quite landing where he wants to. But the takeaway is lovely; he accomplishes his goals by going for it and the gentle accompaniment by the likes of bassist Gilles Fournier and drummer Daniel Roy tastefully offsets the slight burl of his voice, adding depth to each composition. The fact that this artist is the now-retired former head of music of the Canada Council for the Arts has no bearing on his musical talent. Yet, as clearly evidenced here, Kelley can write a mean song and play it forward with smoky-toned conviction.
He’s also got the smarts to surround himself with musicians who add their own significant voices to his own, including Juno-winning sax player Jane Bunnett, West Coast Dobro master Doug Cox and Multi-instrumentalist Jaxon Haldane who produced this Winnipeg-based project.
From the opening Sometimes It’s So Simple, driven by his upbeat guitar playing, to the title track, which benefits from Bunnett’s moody, adventurous sax excursions, Kelley succeeds in bringing his craft to bear on the material. With luck, he won’t stop here and his newfound confidence will open new opportunities for his songwriting.
– By Eric Thom
Russ Kelley – Crazy Shades Of Blue
By Sarah Greene
RUSS KELLEY plays tonight (Thursday, January 10) at C’est What. See listing.
The debut solo album by Russ Kelley is his first recording since his vocal cord surgery in the late 80s. The retired Canada Council head of music was a songwriter and member of Rings n’ Things before he was an arts administrator, and you can hear the strength of his writing in the album’s oldest song, Elaine. (Renée Martel had a hit in Quebec with a French version, Partir Au Soleil, in 1972.)
A number of Kelley’s new tunes are excellent as well, notably acoustic guitar and mandolin opener Sometimes It’s So Simple, soul-pop song Signs Of Love and the title track (featuring Jane Bunnett on sax). And though Kelley’s post-surgery voice sounds a bit hushed, it establishes a distinct, subtle vibe that makes Crazy Shades Of Blue an atypical-sounding folk/blues/jazz disc.
Top track: Elaine
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Russ Kelley – Crazy Shades Of Blue (Ark Road Music Productions) :: What with Valentine’s Day fast coming around the clubhouse turn and all, you could do yourself a whole lot worse than get the jump on things by giving your significant druther this ten pack of thoughtfully persuasive and slightly pensive romantic paeans. That’s because Russ has the kind of ragged black coffee and unfiltered nicotine vocal delivery that just oozes been-around-the-block sincerity. It’ll also have you reaching for a pack of industrial-strength HallsMentho-Lyptus which, unfortunately, aren’t included with the sticker price.