Harvey Russell “Pure as the Flame”

Heartland Music Australia, 2024

Australian country roots artist shows progression on his sophomore album, all about life’s challenges.

Harvey Russell 'Pure as the Flame' cover artHarvey Russell hails from Sydney and ‘Pure as the Flame’ is his sophomore album, which suggests that he is a relative newcomer to the country music/Americana scene. Not a bit of it; his pedigree dates back around 20 years when he led a band called The Harvey Swagger Band, and then he formed the duet Peasant Moon that delivered more folk-influenced fare, before forming his current band, The Widowmakers, who have played on both of his solo albums.

‘Liquid Damage’ was released in 2019, to favourable reviews, including from AUK but, as has been the way with many artists, new albums have taken time to appear because of COVID restrictions, and Russell feared that the songs on the new album, mostly written during the pandemic, might not see the light of day.  Nevertheless, ‘Pure as the Flame’ has been partly road-tested with a slew of singles from the album, and now it is here in full.  Following in the footsteps of fellow Aussies like Keith Urban, Lee Kernaghan and Paul Kelly, Russell delivers a range of country and roots songs, recorded with his crack backing band, with as fine a sound as you could hope for, and yet with a discernible Australian lilt to his voice and some Australian sensibilities in the songs.

It kicks off with the title track, a slowish brooding ballad with swirling steel guitar overlaying the other instruments. More traditional country rock comes with the second track, the upbeat shuffle ‘Mean Eyes’, with great ensemble playing, especially from Aaron Langman on electric and steel guitar and Luke Moller on fiddle.  Any thoughts that this might be a purely country album are laid aside with ‘Last Dance’, a solid country rock track with a nod to Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, but with added fiddle.  Langman, again, plays some tasty riffs and solos on electric guitar.

While there was a question about whether Russell’s last album was a bit too country for this magazine, his new album shows considerable advancement, with a more rounded, slightly lusher sound and nice variety in tone and pace, delivering in the round a classic Americana album. Producer and temporary on-call band member Michael Carpenter lays some great honky tonk piano behind the stomping ‘No Looking Back’, whereas the next track ‘Honey Come back to Me’ is indeed a fine honky tonk song featuring Langman again. Carpenter also digs out some nice baritone guitar sounds on ‘Batten Down the Hatches’ and ‘Look Me in the Eye’, which looks at the challenges we face and whether we are up to them “You might walk around the desert for years on end Bowing down to false idols having your ear bent Maybe you’ll turn to stone before you see what’s good Maybe you’ll look it in the eye like I know you should”  The challenges we face, particularly in our relationships, is a constant theme. Take the first line from the standard country song ‘Whole Lot of Heartache’  “Gotta whole lot of heartache When you left me in tatters I’d been drinking your cool-aid Turns out it was sour”.  And the album ends with ‘Keep Coming Back’, a dark and somewhat menacing song: “Your green eyes opened up to me As you gave me that cold beer A glimpse that wasn’t yours to give And something he would come to fear” from ‘No backing down’ .

Russell and his band are developing a fine profile in Australia, especially for their live performances, from which these tracks would clearly benefit. Watch out for him if he comes to the UK, he is likely to go down a storm. In the meantime get this first class album, learn the words and be ready to sing along at the gig.

8/10
8/10

About FredArnold 60 Articles
Lifelong fan of predominantly US (and Canadian) country roots music. Previously an avid concert-goer before wives, kids and dogs got in the way- and although I still try to get to several, my preference for small independent venues often means standing, and that ain't too good for my ancient bones!! Still, a healthy and catholic music collection helps ease the pain
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