Monday, June 06, 2011

RANDI RUSSO "Fragile Animal"

“Fragile Animal” is Randi Russo’s third studio album since 2001’s self-released “Solar Bipolar”, a steady album-every-five-years work-rate that speaks of the careful (and most likely self-funded) progress of a musician working independently (or on small grassroots indie labels like Hidden Target) as well as following a parallel calling as a visual artist. Russo has shared bills with Regina Spektor, Kimya Dawson, Diane Cluck, Ida and Langhorne Slim - but on “Fragile Animal” the native New Yorker is never as caustic or wayward as those anti-folkers or as spectral or sparse as Cat Power (apparently a comparison for some. For my money, "Exile on Guyville"-era Liz Phair is closer to the mark). Instead the album presents ten richly layered, melodic rock songs mixing literate, attentively crafted singer-songwriter fare with occasional touches of garage-rock edginess and NYC chug. Some songs – opener ‘Get Me Over’ and ‘Hurt Me Now’ – have a frail sweetness, almost vulnerability, about them but there’s plenty of leathery toughness too.

The bitter anger and angst of “Alienation” reminds me of Lisa Germano complete with flailing, anguished guitar; ‘Head High’ opens with Tom Waits junk-shop rhythms before settling into a strained, muscular throb with Patti Smith-like chanted phrases. Most songs are more conventional in texture and tone but the final seven minute ‘Restless Raga’ throws another stylistic deviation into the mix with Eastern vibes and drones. Without being driven by a strident stance, gender and identity are strong themes throughout: Russo can sing of two dimensional depictions of women (‘Venus on Saturn’) but equally express personal ambivalence at switching between states of invincibility and invisibility (‘Invisible').

The lushness and detail of the production (label-mate Paul Megna of The Oxygen Ponies - more on them soon) takes away some of the raw bite of previous records but not the quality. Russo plays left-handed guitar but has it strung as though for a right-hander. Not a hugely revolutionary innovation but a subtly distinctive and self-confident one. Much the same as “Fragile Animal” proves to be.

Randi Russo Fragile Animal [BUY]

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