As we all gush over Adele and mourn for what could have been with Amy Winehouse, Alice Russell is an unsung hero in what has become the ladies division of British Soul. Steadily releasing albums since 2004 beginning with Under The Munka Moon, she enters into 2013 with her fifth affair, To Dust, an effort that plays up her vocal and artistic strengths, and expands on an already-growing discography. Backed by single, "Heartbreaker", To Dust shows how she picked up a few new things from her time with Quantic, as displayed on last year's summer soft, Look Around The Corner, and has added a little variety to her palatable hard candy formula.
With long-time music crafting partner, TM Juke, Russell feigns off of the glossy Motown of her last album, 2008's Pot Of Gold, and latches onto a richer, more electronic tapestry, where cosmic Gospel and from-the-gut Blues textures are woven into the fold. Thundering spacious sets like the excellent two-fer "I Loved You" and pensive "Different" have Russell roll in her own deep (sorry), the latter having the singer exploring and conquering abstract space-age Soul. The spirit of Dusty Springfield's vocal phrasing is resurrected on the fizzing percussive title-track and the upcoming single, "Twin Peaks". On the flip, "Hard and Strong" and "Let Go (Breakdown) jump jovial in the pews complete with hand claps having Russell recollecting Pot Of Gold days.
To Dust, while artistically engaging, is blemished slightly with a strangely arranged tracklisting (why "Heartbreaker Pt. 2" comes before "Pt. 1" and its interlude is a mystery) and some interludes that should have gone on longer (um, why build up the awesome that is "Drinking Song" to let me down with a fade out?). Also some tracks (see "Twin Peaks" and "For Awhile") have trouble of lifting off, or in turn, belittle Russell's abilities. Still these are minor speed bumps.
Russell reminds me a lot of other understated class acts like Alison Moyet, Des'ree, Lisa Stansfield, and Australian's underrated soul queen Renee Geyer (hear "Say I Love You" and tell me you hear the kinship). Though they've had their fare share of hits, with Stansfield being the most hit savvy, they were often hard to wedge into categories, and when people should have been listening they were brushed aside for those who were easier to classify. Too intricate and variant they were, and Russell follows in this same practice. She is quite technical and very detail oriented with how she approaches this thing called music as she comes at it from all sides, not just by connecting all the dots in a line, but by going outside of that line, mapping her own dots. Setting herself apart from the pack, Russell on To Dust continues to captivate lyrically and vocally, and even though she looms under the radar, it's great to see that her quiet fire hasn't been extinguished.
To Dust is currently available via import, but will be officially released in the US on April 30th.