Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
llison Russell is not a one-album wonder. Russell's stock went soaring after the release of "Outside Child," her brutally honest breakthrough album. The recent follow-up "The Returner" showed that the Nashville-based Montreal native has more excellent sounds up her sleeve, although it has less of an Americana direction.
With the emphasis on the new disc, one aspect of Russell's persona that has not changed one iota is that she remained a warm, captivating performer. Russell has an expressive, emotional delivery whether singing in English or sometimes delivering the verses on a dime in French.
Russell has been through a lot in her life, something she has freely talked about in the past (abuse by her father), and she did not shy away from it on this night either before a sold-out, locked in crowd. It's sometimes difficult to listen to, but on the other hand, Russell also underscored that she has dealt with and risen above the utterly difficult times to send messages of strength and resolve to her fans.
That also clearly came through in her songs – actually, from the get go. In her spry "Springtime," which launched the show, Russell sang, "So long, farewell, adieu, adieu / To that tunnel I went through / And my reward, my recompense? / Springtime of my present tense."
Or only a few songs later on the triumphantly upbeat "Stay Right Here" where Russell belts out about surviving the past to embrace the joy of the present. The punchy backing of her all-female Rainbow Coalition band propelled the song with a lot of bass from Ganessa James.
Or on the intense "Eve Was Black" where she confronts racism with images of lynching running through your head as Russell sings of a swinging rope while playing banjo.
Light music, this was not.
Russell reached back to other musical projects, including "Superlover" from Birds of Chicago, the band she formed with her husband JT Nero, and closing out the night with "You're Not Alone" from the super group Our Native Daughters.
About the only downer was that Russell only offered three songs from "Outside Child." Understandably, the emphasis was on "The Returner," but more from the past would have been most welcome, especially considering she only played 13 songs in 90 minutes.
Still, in this day and age where many artists struggle to maintain careers, Russell's is headed onward and upward. Sure, she releases excellent music, but she also once again was an engaging, intimate and ultimately uplifting performer live. That was no wonder.