LIVE: Alice Russell @ The Jazz Cafe
Blue-Eyed Soul At Its Best
This past weekend Alice Russell graced The Jazz Café in Camden, and what a way it was for everyone there to end their January, notoriously known as the toughest month of the year to get through: finances are dangerously low after the festive season, resolutions have to be made to lose that pesky holiday weight, and it’s cold, grey and dreary outside. All of these concerns were well and truly forgotten though as the diminutive singer skipped down the stairs, her band already in full groove, and she began serving up her brand of tasty blue-eyed soul.
There hasn’t been any new material from Russell since the release of her fifth album ‘To Dust’ in 2013, and it’s from this project that she borrowed much of the material from for the night. Not that that’s a bad thing. Not by any means. The collection of tracks that the album boasts are some of the finest representations of modern soul and funk that you’ll currently find on either side of the Atlantic, without question.
One thing that you take away from an Alice Russell show once the final note has been played is her truly impressive voice. It’s an accomplished one, of authority, and awesome power. The microphone almost seems redundant. ‘Citizens’, one of the tail-end tracks of ‘To Dust’, is unfurled early on in her set, and it’s here, especially so, where Russell’s truly luscious vocals hit home, with just a tinkering piano as accompaniment. The crowd is soon thereafter treated to another stripped-back performance with long-time friend and producer TM Juke, who’s always at Russell’s side at her shows, acting as conductor, keeping the band impressively tight. He steps away momentarily from the glow of his laptop and provides a guitar-strummed backdrop for a sultry rendition of ‘Heartbreaker’. Elsewhere, Russell masterfully floats from vibe to vibe throughout the night, showing her intense, rousing side as she belts out the title-track of the album, and then becoming the most elegant of songbirds while purring through ‘Twin Peaks’.
A few oldies show their faces as well, material in which Russell has a much more evident leaning towards dirtier funk than smooth soul, and they add an electricity to the already hot, hot evening. ‘A Fly In The Hand’, an unhurried track on 2005 album ‘My Favourite Letters’ is given a little makeover, the band raising its pulse, with Russell adding an edgy bite to her vocals. Another oldie, ‘Got The Hunger?’ from her 2008 album ‘Pot Of Gold’, is a delicious slice of golden gospel, thrown in for good measure, because she can. She’s got it all in her arsenal, and that becomes crystal clear as the evening unfolds.
Another thing that becomes crystal clear as you watch this talent is that the Suffolk-born singer has an undeniable charisma; a bubbly and bouncy personality that brightens up whichever space she’s performing in, and this is what makes her sound as vibrant as it is. She puts all of her heart, and that special soul of hers, into her work. Her energy is infectious, and The Jazz Café’s intimate space was the perfect environment to lap this energy up.
In 'Citizens', Russell calls on those of “planet Earth” to “think a little about what you got”; well, citizens of England, you can call Russell your own, one of the finest soul singers around, that’s what you got. Think a little about that.