Jonathan Russell quit his day job as a Toronto bike courier in the mid-nineties and landed a gig at Old Chicago's in London, Ontario. Since then he has branched out into many other venues. Although predominantly a bluesman, his music encompasses many genres and at this point he is not ready to be pigeon-holed. For his debut CD, Russell wanted to represent a live evening with his band. They decided to record one of their September, 2000 gigs at southern Ontario's smallest and friendliest blues club. Situated in Brantford, Ontario, the Poor Folks Deli is one of those rare 'real blues' clubs which features live music 7 days a week. Very little mixing took place therefore the recording is an accurate depiction of what went down including creative chords. The production quality is as to be expected from a small, indie release with the drums and bass sounding rather hollow. The Poor Folks is a wild, lively place. Unfortunately all of the camaraderie has been filtered out leaving the impression that no one showed up for this gig. The good news is that Russell's expressive vocals and erupting harp are prominent throughout all 13 cover tunes that make up the 45 minute set. You will find everything from Willie Dixon to Jimmy Johnson to Lowell Fulson to Ray Charles.
"Palace Of The King" features the heavy guitar of Guy Miskelly. Here, he squeals and shrieks with some ripping heavy metal licks. Good ole basic blues turns up on "Bring It On Home To Me". This time Miskelly sounds like he is taken straight out of 1950s Chicago while Russell's harping is awesome. The driving, rhythm section of Paco Danesi (bass) and Ryan Van Acker (drums) help to deliver a soulful version of "You Don't Know What Love Is". The band does justice to "Rockin' Daddy" and storms through a hard rockin rendition of "I'm Goin' Down". On the latter, Guy sounds like he is auditioning for a spot on the next G3 tour while Jonathan's harp is wailing and on fire. Performing covers comes with the challenge of meeting the listener's expectations to at a minimum be on a plateau with the original. When this isn't possible certain songs should be avoided. Such is the case with "Black Cat Bone" and "Unchain My Heart".
It would have been nice to hear more of Russell's harp. However perhaps that would have resulted in limited time to hear his exceptionally strong voice. One cannot deny the exorbitant amount of energy that runs rampant on this disc. It is what an evening of live music should be like. Since the songs are all covers, its difficult to determine whether the Jonathan Russell Band has what it takes to surpass playing the club scene. However, this CD will have you consulting your local listings to see if he is appearing at a bar in the neighbourhood.
For CDs, booking and information, contact the band's website: www.jonathanrussellband.com
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