Featuring a new version of Russell's CFNY hit from the 80's, "MIRACLE (Miracle of Love)", this album has a New Wave flavour with an upbeat vibe - Russell is in full Pop mode!
MIRACLE (Miracle of Love) feat. Mike Bessette - A remake of Russell’s synth-based song that was a hit on Toronto’s trend-setting CFNY radio station back in the 80’s. The song earned Russell a nomination for Most Promising Male Vocalist in the nationally televised 1985 CASBY Awards (Gowan won the award that year for Strange Animal). The original is now out of print but repeated requests from frustrated fans inspired Russell to re-record it for this album in a totally fresh arrangement with no synths in evidence, just real drums (played by Mike Bessette, Russell’s punk cohort from their band, The Strokes – no not that band, this band was first!), and tenor sax played by Russell (who loves his Jupiter sax!)
GANGSTERLAND - Who’s the gangster? That’s Elyce. Back in the day, Russell would go into Steve’s Music and decide what new gear he couldn’t live without. Then he’d call in Elyce who would hammer the sales guys for the best possible deal. Steve Kirman once offered her a job, probably just to get her on his side for a change!
TRUST ME feat. Carlos Avila - Carlos, one of the most talented guitarists Russell has ever worked with, appears courtesy of Hey There! Locklear.
ALDOUS HUXLEY (Brave New World) feat. Beta Girls - Who doesn’t know of this book? This and George Orwell’s 1984 are prescient visions of our future each radically different from the other. We guess it depends where you live in the world - some places, Orwell’s prediction is coming true, but in North America, we’re being co-opted into Huxley’s vision. This guy had ESP - from cloning to virtual reality, he saw it all from the early twentieth century! The Beta Girls (Cathy Canestrari, Martine Lapointe, Nunzia Catena, Miriam Porrazzo) appear courtesy of Jam Industries and Erikson Audio.
SUMMER OF OUR LIVES - One of Russell’s earliest songs, written when he was 17, this is pure fantasy, but it feels like a memory.
BABYLON BABIES - Russell’s love of reggae comes through on this one via The Clash while his sax solo on this groove oriented tune hails back to the early days of rock’n’roll.
LOVER - The Clash meet The Temptations in this song. As if that weren’t enough of a mix, Russell manages to throw in banjo and sax riffs and the groovy bass hook is played on his new Kala UBass (Russell can’t believe the tone and playability of this mini miracle!) Add the transvestite background vocals and what have you got? Another Russell original. Lyrically a love life lament, this song is nothing but fun!
AND ONE DAY - Built on an eastern European type melody, this song of forbearance features a clash of outlooks reflected in the dueling electric blues and acoustic gypsy guitars.
I FORGET - Introspection can lead to a universal realization: “Time protects the lonely hearts it heals”.
YOU MAKE ME - Dedicated to Elyce. Art is a luxury paid for by the artist’s spouse, Russell will tell you unabashedly. For years, Elyce supported him musically, financially and most importantly, emotionally. In this song which sounds like a TV show from the 70’s, Russell acknowledges this happy debt.
“I want to thank the following people and companies for their help, feedback and support which contributed in the making of this album: Elyce, Oliver, zoot aloors, Sandy Miss Parker, Ed Cooke, Norbert Roth, Sandra Chechik, Jam Industries, Erikson Audio, Erikson Music, Coast Music, Kala (makers of the UBass), Jupiter (sax), Van Doren (mouthpiece and reeds), Ableton (music software), PreSonus (music software), Propellerhead (music software), Washburn (guitars), Pearl (drums), Audio-Technica (mics & headphones), Focusrite (audio interfaces).”
"Russell and the band sound superb! The recording itself is bursting with interest and quality. Russell is on a powerful and positive groove here, perhaps less pensive than some of the lyrics on the ROCKHILL disk I reviewed previously, but more, I dunno, fun.
I almost hate to compare a Benjamin Russell release with another artist's output, it usually does little service to all involved, but it is an inevitability that folks want a comparative idea in their minds as to what the music will offer ...I will nonetheless oblige... I hear classic tones that remind me of Roxy Music, Chris DeBurgh, Santana, Phish, Rough Trade, Robyn Hitchcock, and all the hooks I remember from the best days of A.M. Radio circa 1972-74ish. A hard to describe Can-Con vibe is also imprinted within the music, it cannot be denied, despite the obviously worldly players involved. I've always enjoyed this aspect of Russell's music, because he reaches into wonderful places, yet feels rooted at home. It's a great quality to find in music, because that's the stuff that's timeless.
I also think of contemporary bands that SUNDOG stacks well up with, don't mind me... No Sinner, Hidden Cameras, Yukon Blonde, Nathan Lawr & The Minotaurs, Brasstronaut would all make worthy and fitting tour mates; they all cut similar pathways into genres as well as Russell's band does and could attract a like-minded audience.
I noticed two more comparisons while listening to SUNDOG - Bruce Cockburn and I.S.S. commander Chris Hadfield, two stellar performers with a great grasp of the Earth and its fragility. The three form a type of brotherhood in my mind, one of enlightenment and honesty in the face of the unknown, and an adventurous quality that truly inspires! Russell's joy is contagious and his lyrics are a comfort. Sundog seems to mirror the mood I aspire to, and I thank Russell for the effort.
As per usual, Benjamin Russell has produced an album that affirms a simple fact, that mood need not be subsumed by technique; all the players, voices etc. shine in their own showcases and are confidently allowed to reveal their charms at an easy-going pace. No pressure, just pleasure. That thread contributes to my whole listening experience and it's a beautiful thing."
zoot aloors, canadaisamusicmec.ca
released 16 June 2013
Benjamin Russell - songwriter, vocals, guitar, bass, sax, banjo, computer
Mike Bessette - Drums
Carlos Avila - Lead Guitar
Beta Girls (Cathy Canestrari, Martine Lapointe, Nunzia Catena, Miriam Porrazzo) - background vocals