by Jim Washburn
“A voice as big as Texas” used to be the limit to which a country singer could aspire. Australia got into the act, with 11 times more open space, and a voice as big as Kate Russell’s to fill it.
With her third album, Give Your Love to Me, you might as well give your love to her, because Russell has a voice that could just as easily demand it of you. Even when the US-living Australian country-rock singer/songwriter caresses a lyric, you can sense the emotional power behind it, and that urgency is matched with a remarkable range that goes from sultry and low well up into the clouds. Check out the closing choruses of “Red Cloud Road,” where she lofts notes to heights well beyond the reach of most singers.
That mournful goodbye of a song is one of the album’s standouts, from its restrained instrumentation to Russell’s slow climb from a confessional hush to a rueful shout. “You Oughta Know by Now” is the other ballad, about a guy who doesn’t know love when he sees it. Couched amid a yearning Dobro, Russell’s vocal is a gem of understatement.
Though she can certainly sell a sad song, it’s clear that Russell thinks troubles are better exorcised on the dance floor. You know how a lot of country sounds like a watered-down version of ‘70s rock? Russell doesn’t bother with the water. The raw propulsion of her “Dynamite” may remind you of another Aussie act, and that’s AC/DC, not Keith Urban.
Another song, “The Long Kiss,” sounds like an imagined meet-up of Jackie de Shannon and Rockpile. Some of Russell’s other unapologetic boot-stompers feel akin to the ‘70s California mainstay Jo Jo Gunne’s irresistibly carnal arena rock, and that’s a good thing.
The backing on Russell’s sessions comes from her longtime collaborator Rich Mouser, and such stellar music-world names as Greg Leisz (the most recorded steel guitarist in history), bassist Bob Glaub (who’s thundered for Rod Stewart, Jackson Browne and others) and drummer Stephen Hodges (whose work ranges from Tom Waits to Mavis Staples).
The sole quibble is that, in getting all the band’s sizzle onto disc, the production doesn’t always leave a lot of space for Russell’s vocals in the mix. Maybe she enjoys fighting to be heard in the scrimmage, since she co-produced the album with Mouser. Her singing certainly rises to the occasion, but a voice as pure as hers deserves to have a little more breathing room.
Stay in touch with Kate on her Website: