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Memphis Belle, (09/24/08) Memphis singer and songwriter Reba Russell 's range is amazing, from full-throttle roadhouse to slow-burning, heartrending Blues. She can shiver your timbers. Bleeding Heart comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. The lion part is "Red Mississippi Clay," a piece written by two members of Russell's band, husband and bassist Wayne Russell and guitarist Josh Roberts , and B. Webb. A solid instrumental intro by her band shows off their talents. The band members, other than Roberts and Russell, include Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms on harp and keyboard and Doug McMinn on drums. The harp and Reba's gravelly, down-home voice stand out in this piece. The lamb part is "Sleepless Nights Alone," a gentle, breezy tune with a piano and snare drum background and Russell as a torch singer, singing about how " midnight silence got a hold on me ": a la Keely Smith , soft, sweet, and tortured. Three of the songs are Russell originals, "Miss Me," "Love Is The Cure," and "Blues Is Mine." In "Blues Is Mine," a hard-driving Rock Blues number, Reba lets us know in the best roadhouse fashion that " I'm not privileged/I'm not rich/But I'm one hell of a fast bitch ." Later on she says that she may be white, but " the Blues is mine, mine, oh, mine ." Such conviction and feeling in her voice that you got to believe her; the same with the other two songs and the band that backs her up. Jimmy Thackery joins her on two songs that he wrote, "Memphis Moon Tonight" and "Levee Prayer." The first is a laid-back romantic song with Reba in her heartrending mode backed up by Roberts, Russell, and Thackery's flawless guitar picking, and backup vocals by the Masqueraders . It has a Fifties' Country Blues sound to it. Then "Levee" is worthy of an old-time Baptist camp meeting in the piney woods, with lyrics such as " I got one foot on the levee/One foot in the grave/Trying to do my best for Jesus ." The twangy thunder of the guitars balanced by Russell's plaintive, tortured voice sends chills up your spine. You know something bad is going to happen. The other songs include "High Price," "Some People," "12 Bar Blues," "To Know You," and "In My Girlish Days." All wonderful pieces made even better by the natural, clear voice of Reba Russell. The one that comes to mind is "High Price" that starts out " I set fire to my heart this morning " and goes on from there. The harp and guitar work so well together along with Reba's clear, trembly, straight-forward delivery that it sends some more chills up your spine until you're almost frozen with desire. Bleeding Heart lives up to its title. A raw-boned, sultry piece of work by one of Memphis' own. Jeff Richards is a contributing editor at BluesWax. You may contact Jeff at email@example.com .
Reba Russell Band - Bleeding Heart
12 songs; 49:59 minutes; Library Quality
“I hate to say that I’m a bleeding heart liberal or anything, but I am a child of the 1960s. ...I just don’t like war, you know. ‘What we do to each other IS what we do to ourselves’ – everybody I admire has said that: Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, a lot of people, and I just believe that. ...I want everybody to get along and love each other! ...it’s just a confusing world to live in. So, the only thing I know to do is just to make my music and say what I can say trying not to hurt anybody – at all. I’m just trying to make a few people feel better ...or be happier, you know. That’s all I can do!” Reba Russell, August 30, 2006. These quotes come from an extensive interview my radio show co-host D’Arcy “Shuffle Shoes” Ballinger and I did with Memphis music maven Reba Russell. The interview revealed Reba to be sincere with straight forward honesty. She was less pretentious than any artist I have ever interviewed or met! Two years later, that sincerity and honesty have manifested as the album title to the Reba Russell Band’s powerful new CD, “Bleeding Heart.” Uniquely, there is no song track with that title, nor will one find those two words in any song. Track 4, “Love Is The Cure” does contain her heartfelt beliefs: “I love Muslims, I love Jews, I love Christians and Hindus ... I want to love everybody like I love you. ... Love is the cure for everything. (guitar solo) I hate war, I hate pain, I hate greed and murder the same ... Love is the cure for everything. ... Well, call me a hippie – a socialist Dawes; say my mind is melted, my intellect dust. I’ll still quote Jesus and like Martin Luther King ‘cause Love is the Cure for everything!” The chorus has amazing harmony backup vocals by Reba herself and The Masqueraders (Jackie Johnson, Susan Marshall, Harold Thomas, and Sam Hutchin). People should not get the wrong idea here about Reba notes Ballinger, “She’s not a push over. You won’t fool her with [temporary] kindness. For proof, check out track 7, ‘Some People.’ What a contrast, and it’s realistic to sing, ‘Some people need to be remembered; some people need to be forgot.’ That catchy line has been stuck in my head for weeks.” Indeed, beyond that fourth track, the album contains a variety of interesting songs. For long time fans, this is not the same CD as last time. The album portrays the person and the band and the different sides of both. The band consists of Reba’s long time mentor turned lover turned husband Wayne Russell – bass, Robert “Nighthawk” Tooms – keyboard and harp, Josh Roberts – guitars, and Doug McMinn (son of Memphis’ Don McMinn) – drums. It was recorded at Jim Dickinson’s Zebra Ranch in Independence MS and co-produced by “BEB” partner Dawn Hopkins and Reba. “I like to call the album ‘nasty,’ and I mean that in a good way,” said Shuffle Shoes. “Robert ‘Nighthawk’ Tooms has always had a gritty sound that translates on to the band. There’s a complete variety of songs. They took a long hiatus to write, and it’s paid off. Each record gets stronger and stronger. When they come out of the gate strong, that means this one is nasty!” “Red Mississippi Clay” is that “strong” opener. Starting with Josh Roberts’ Delta electric slide and Nighthawk’s harp, the story reveals the harsh share-croppers failure at trying to grow enough cotton in Mississippi. Even more powerful is a shiver-sending number, “Levee Prayer,” written by guest guitarist and frequent blues fest partner Jimmy Thackery. The Delta flood plain resident protagonist has “one foot on the levee and one in the grave” as flood waters have taken away absolutely everything he valued. In one hand he has a Bible, the other a gun. Will desperation lead to his perceived sin of suicide? For love songs, there are “Memphis Moon Tonight,” “Miss Me,” “To Know You,” and set closer “Sleepless Nights Alone.” For a lost-love song, there’s “High Price” written by Delta Joe Sanders. For fun there is the double meaning of “12 Bar Blues.” Done musically as a 12 bar blues, here is the headachy, hangover story of a night of drinking in 12 different bars. Our heroine recounts from fuzzy memory just what happened. She can not remember the 12th bar at all, but there’s proof she “was there” because “the owner just called me up – said he found my monogrammed _?_!” So as not to spoil the surprise, you’ll have to get the album to find out exactly what he found. For real-deal blues, try the CD’s only cover, Memphis Minnie’s “In My Girlish Days” and “Blues Is Mine” which begins, “I’m not privileged; I’m not rich, but I am one hell of a best bitch....” Simply, for exceptional quality music, long time fans and newcomers alike should allow Reba’s “Bleeding Heart” into your heart. You’ll feel rewarded – guaranteed!
Reba Russell Band Live Show Review
Reba Russell Band in Banana Peel at Ruiselede Monday June 11th and CC De Steiger in Menen (Belgium) Thursday June 14th 2007. Review by Antoine Legat
Reading the small letters is a sports that many music lovers endorse. You learn through the liner notes and thank you’s about the producers and studio’s, the group members and session musicians, the labels and managements, and record after record you spot links, you look for connections and influences. You discover the friends and sometimes even the enemies! It gives you an insight in the evolution of an artist and the eternal comings and goings of everyone involved in the process. Of course, it is not different with the records of U2. One of the strongest tunes on Rattle And Hum of 1990 certainly is When Love Comes To Town, where the Irish band teamed up with B.B. King in the legendary Sun Studios of Sam Phillips, none less! The backing vocals on that song were done by a certain Reba Russell. Although her contribution was only incorporated in a limited fashion (we know the story in the meantime; as so often it was just a question of being at the right time and place) the voice stirred up enough curiosity to keep us going…for a while. A black singer, that was one thing we were absolutely sure of! But time goes by, nothing else seemed to happen and other things begged for our attention. When a tour was announced by the Reba Russell Band, our interest was aroused again. We quickly found out Reba is white, a regular of Beale Street and one of the leading voices of the Memphis sound, the blues, R&B and soul as we know it notably from Al Green (but without the brass) In any case, the passage of the Reba Russell Band in the Banana Peel in Ruiselede (Western Flanders, Belgium) we’ll always remember as thé surprise of this past season. The concert in the crammed cafeteria of Cultural Center De Steiger in Menen (same province and country) was hardly less: of course it was not a surprise anymore and the sound offered some problems, certainly at the start, but in general the end result was quite the same. These clubs are used to the best in blues, but the storm that hit us these two instances is only equalled by Katrina, with this big difference that this whirlwind plunged us into a beneficent jacuzzi of steaming rock, soul, blues, gospel and even alt.country. The secret? Brilliant song material (self written tunes besides well chosen covers), an extraordinary band and a singer who has no equal (purity of the voice, volume, range, technique, emotional input, you name it, you got it)…Nothing more than that, actually! Added to this, and it’s not at all unimportant, Reba and band members are nice and interesting people to talk to. They speak freely and with a considerable background, but at the same time humbly about their life, their music. On stage, the attitude changes and commitment is total, take no prisoners! That’s what the blues and rock fan craves. The band centres round bass player and Reba’s husband (not sure about the order) Wayne Russell (who moreover is a highly talented graphic artist: on the site you can find some exquisite close ups, portraits and views, all to do with music!) A fixed band member is keyboard player and harpist Robert ‘Nighthawk’ Tooms (who told us a few interesting things about the origins of the legendary King Biscuit festival, now ABHF, Arkansas Blues & Heritage Festival) No fixed member but often on the road with the band is Doug McMinn, a drummer you can meet about everywhere with fine musicians in need of back up (we saw him e.g. in Banana Peel with Mojo Buford, some time ago) He is a member of the musical family around Papa Don McMinn, who roams Beale Street, but played with about everyone who has some reputation in the blues circuit. It’s typical that these experienced buffs didn’t hesitate to take a very young gifted guitar player under the wings. Josh Roberts, barely 19, has earned quite a reputation while playing with others, after having listened carefully to the three Kings (B.B., Albert and Freddie) and especially to Eric Clapton. But by taking him on the road, forcing him to perform on a daily basis in all kinds of conditions, they make a fully blown artist out of a wonder boy. That’s the way it should be, the veteran foxes transmitting their experience to the young wolves. Josh knows this all too well and realises he gets the opportunity of a lifetime with this bunch. It was even as if progression could be heard in the three days between the two concerts…But that might just be coincidence or imagination… Another positive point is the operational range of Reba & band. We not only mean the different styles of Americana but also the choice of the songs. Of course there were parallels between the concerts, such as an identical stirring grand finale, but besides this, songs seem to be chosen on the spot and therefore every concert is thoroughly different. They don’t shun the risks. In Banana Peel Reba sang a request, nothing less than Piece Of My Heart of Janis Joplin fame, clearly a role model for Reba. Josh didn’t have the song in the fingers but a quick learner can always jump in and adjust. The last notes Reba sang even without…microphone, because the bloody mike had given up. Well, that’s an opportunity to try out the volume then! Another test for the voice was that other request, second encore Summertime by George & Ira Gerschwin (from Porgy & Bess), that she performed a cappella. ,,If I forget the words, please help me’’, she said, but she hadn’t forgotten them and the blood chilling execution was greeted with a well deserved standing ovation. In Banana Peel Reba also declared her craving for the repertoire of Willie Dixon. Spoonful and When The Lights Go Out (on CD she brings this last one as a duet with Tracy Nelson) were highlights. Come to think of it, what was not a highlight in this performance? She introduced us to Delta Joe Sanders through the hilarious One Track Mind and Chinaberry Tree, a song built up as a grand epic but with witty lyrics. Sanders is for Reba what Eric Kaz was for Bonnie Raitt. Oops! The name has been dropped! Yes, indeed there are parallels to be drawn with la Raitt. We ask ourselves even if Bonnie couldn’t be interested in covering Reba’s own Without Your Love, a ballad like she likes to sing ‘m. Reba will probably sooner refer to the great blues diva’s of the pre-war period, Bessie Smith in the first place. Her rendering of Electric Chair is more than just singing. You actually taste the sheer pleasure with which the convicted woman recounts the murder on her dear husband! William Lee Ellis is one of her other favourites: Your Up Is Down again shows what a major (but still hidden) talent Ellis is (she also has a wonderful version of his My Religion Too on her latest CD Rewound, a selection of songs from three older CD’s, Going On Strong, Buried Treasure and City Of The Blues) Her own material is excellent in its own right: besides Without Your Love we heard Heaven Came To Helena, in fact an endearing homage to the ABHF, that takes place in tiny Helena. That it’s not all sugar and cream between Reba and her ,,cherished’’ Memphis we can hear in the sublime and highly ironical Gonna Move To Mississippi (,,Nobody gives a damn about me in Tennessee’’) It is indeed Reba who pulls the reins…She’s the boss! One could see that clearly in Menen. After a couple of songs already she had won over the audience. Again, the intro was for Nighthawk, but he and Reba cut other songs than in Ruiselede, at least in the first half. Part-Time Love indicated that Wayne Russell can also write down a mean tune. In Toolbox Blues Reba Russell gave the suggestive (read erotic) lyrics the right mood. The rest was again a triumphant march with Willie Dixon’s indestructible Wang Dang Doodle (All Night Long) that closed up the first set. Sugar, the Lowell Fulson song, came just before that and got a succulent Little Feat boogie touch, ,,the closest thing to Lowell George we heard in a long time’’, we told Reba during the break. After the intermission we went from one great tune to another. We noted a poignant I’m Ready (Muddy Waters) when Josh played a solo that EC probably would have liked a lot. After a doo wop excursion with At Last (Love Came Along) the band climaxed with the aforementioned Electric Chair, the splendid sweltering-menacing Chinaberry Tree and Tooms’ thumping Love Is All You Got. People at De Steiger marvelled. This could only be topped by a delivery of Piece Of My Heart which Josh seemed to master a whole lot better this time. But the song rests on the singer in the first place and this singer seemed to be going even deeper into the emotion, a really awesome delivery, reminiscent of The Pearl. The standing ovation was no surprise, because normally you simply don’t do a song associated with Janis Joplin…except when your name is Reba Russell. Yeah, Reba Russell, don’t forget the name this time, because she is a very big name in blues, and beyond… You missed it? Well, no need for suicidal measures. We were led to understand that it won’t take long before Reba comes along once more. You have an easy choice! Antoine Légat (Original piece in Dutch/Flemish finished July 9th 2007 and published as such in e-mag MazzMusikaS # 76 halfway July; this translation with some minor adaptations: July 16th)
This Week in BluesWax : Reba Russell
BluesWax is Sittin' In With Reba Russell. BluesWax's James Walker recently sat down with Memphis sensation Reba Russell to discuss Memphis Blues, touring, and her latest CD, Broke Down But Not Out .
Two Blues authorities, friends, and countless others have discovered Reba Russell and her band the same way: they heard her voice while walking in Memphis. Former Blues disc jockey in Joliet, Illinois, D'Arcy Ballinger, lucked across a performance at Handy Hall in 1997. Bernie Cox and wife Shelly were walking in Tom Lee Park during Memphis in May when they were knocked out by Russell's vocals accentuating a beautiful afternoon. They discovered she is an incredible humanitarian who may be the best contemporary vocalist out of Memphis. Ballinger says, "Reba is the real Queen of Memphis!" When he reviewed Russell's latest CD, Broke Down But Not Out, nationally known author Art Tipaldi wrote in BluesWax , "I have been listening to Memphis singer Reba Russell since 1995. My first glimpse of her was on Beale Street in the Black Diamond on a Wednesday night. As she belted out the Blues, James Cotton came running in. He and Russell did a half hour of rockin' Blues. Since then, I've been hooked on that voice. I've seen her backing Tracy Nelson , Jimmy Thackery , and others. And I've caught her voice at festivals throughout the States, and every trip to Memphis means scouring the papers to see if Reba's performing during my short stay." Broke Down But Not Out was released in October 2005 and has been rewarded with several great reviews. Explaining Reba's voice, Tipaldi wrote, "Reba Russell has polished her powerful voice with a maturity that relies as much on brawn as it does on control, authority, and emotional nuances. She can still belt it out down and dirty, but she can also produce the most soulful vibrato a human voice can deliver. Vocally, she can vent in one breath, roar in the next, then whisper " mmmm " or " ooh " and have any man on his knees...In a make-the-story-believable fashion, Russell's achingly honest, torrid delivery captivates from the outset." On the Memphis scene for over 25 years, Russel has won three Premiere Vocalist Awards from the Memphis chapter of the National Recording Arts and Sciences and has released five independent CDs in the past seven years. The Reba Russell Band is Blues, R&B, and Memphis-bred Rock 'n' Roll at its rootsy best. Reba also works regularly in Memphis studios as a vocalist and background vocalist. Among her proudest recordings are those for B.B. King , Johnny Cash , Jerry Lee Lewis , The Judds , Ricky Nelson , John Fogerty , Jimmy Thackery, Tracy Nelson, and on U2 's Rattle and Hum - to name a very few. In 2003-2005, Russell's touring schedule wasn't as widespread as her fans would have liked, but she is now working regularly in many venues across America and hoping to add more venues plus tour dates. To catch the Reba Russell Band, check her touring schedule at www.rebarussell.com. Check her out on Bluesville on XM Satellite Radio or, better yet, order a CD and see what the great reviews are all about! D'Arcy Ballinger and I recently talked to Reba about Broke Down But Not Out and other topics:
D'Arcy Ballinger for BluesWax : I'll never forget - and I am sure you won't either - your September appearance near Kankakee, Illinois, after the September 11 attacks, five years ago. Editor's Note: Reba Russell lives daily with heartfelt humanitarianism. She was distraught and was seeking the strength to go on with the performance that night. For the opening song, she drew that strength from a religious number she first heard as an African-American Gospel song and then later in a white Baptist church. Singing "Farther Along" a cappella, she left a lasting impression on those who witnessed it.
Reba Russell : It was very difficult; that whole week was extremely hard. Somehow, we all got through it.
James Walker for BluesWax : At an autumn performance in 2003, you had announced that you and husband Wayne (bassist and writes songs) were being selective and cutting way back on the touring dates. What is your current approach?
RR : [In her engaging Tennessee accent] Well, back then, I took a couple years off because my mother became ill. I decided not to do too many road gigs at all so that I could stay here and be with her. Well, she passed away this January . So this year, I really have been traveling quite a bit more, getting out to venues that I've never been before and areas of the country. I am still being selective. [laughs] I enjoy my home life - in my little shack I have out here in Fayette County [Tennessee]. I like to do some songwriting and you need quiet time to be down to do that. Since I'm not signed to anybody or have a record label, I'm free to pick and choose whatever I want to do, whenever I want to do it. [laughing] I'm too much my own boss.
BW: Describe your band, and you've got a couple of new members, right?
RR : We are a melting-pot style. In general, it's all Roots. Whether it has the flavor of Rock 'n' Roll or R&B, it's gonna be things that were early music for us. Those [Roots sub-genres] are our influences, no question about it!
Josh Roberts [on guitar] is playing with us. People are absolutely going to love Josh! This band I have right now is probably one of the best configurations I've had in years. Josh just turned 18 and he is a young man who is an absolutely fantastic player - very tasteful. He plays the hell out of a slide guitar - unbelievable. He's been with us for about a year now. Brad Webb [ Editor's Note: Reba's friend and former guitarist ] is Josh's teacher. So, a lot of that great technique Josh has, Brad helped him acquire. Josh is a very fresh voice for me Blues-wise, yet very traditional. He truthfully gets better every day. He is just so young that you can hear him get better and better and he is already fantastic - it just real exciting to watch him.
Doug McMinn is on drums. He's an absolutely fantastic guy and great drummer. We're really pleased with and looking forward to working with him as long as I can. He's just a great, great drummer. His dad is Papa Don McMinn . Don is a long-time, great Blues player from these parts. He tours in Europe and gigs in the Memphis area. Both of his sons, Rome a bassist and Doug, are very accomplished musicians. The apples don't fall far from the tree!
Wayne [her husband] is the bass player. He's doing great - [laughing] he's perfect in every way.
Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms is still with us. When I decided to go full-time Blues, Robert is the first guy I wanted to get in my band. In the eleven years or so he has been with me he has taught me so much about the spirit of Blues. He helped me understand it wasn't about pitch, structure, or thought - it was more about feel and emotion. After eleven years I think I am finally catching on! Robert can blow harp, play piano and organ, write, and sings his fanny off. He doesn't need me, but I sure do need him!
The core of the band [Reba, Wayne, Robert] is always the same, but we really are hoping Josh and Doug are going to be happy in our band and stay with us for a while.
BW: Is there anything you want to talk about that we might not ask? Ever thought to yourself, "Just once I wish an interviewer would ask about...fill in the blank"? Russell : Hmmm, well I think it would be nice for once to acknowledge Wayne. I would not be a bandleader or maybe even a professional vocalist musician without Wayne. He put together my first real band and gave me the support and encouragement to keep it up through the hard early years. We were just friends in the beginning - no love interest. He was just a very kind and talented man who took an interest in my singing and held my hand until I learned the business. Thanks, Wayne.
BW: Tell us about your earliest experiences with music, both playing instruments and singing.
Russell : I was born in 1958. I may be getting old, but I am still quite young for a Blues woman. [laughs] My earliest interest in music came from my family. My daddy, who died when I was seven, bought a piano; he tried to play trumpet and other things. He loved music and my mother loved to dance so we had music around in the house when I was little. My older sisters and brother had an extensive record collection so I had access to lots of varied music that way, too. However, I had only sung in the little middle school choir before moving to Memphis in 1973. When we moved it was like a big light bulb went off in my head. There was live music everywhere. I had never been exposed to music close up so I was awed by the talent and excitement of all the musical influences. I received a guitar for my sixteenth birthday and proceeded to teach myself how to play by listening to records. By the time I graduated from high school I could play pretty good and started playing at friends' parties and for my family. Soon afterward I met Wayne, and he came up and told me that he thought I was a really great singer. He told me if I wanted he would put a band together for me. Wayne was nine years older than me and had been a musician in Memphis his whole life and played in numerous bands. I took him up on the offer, and I have never stopped since then.
James Walker for BluesWax : Next, the old standard question: Who were your influences?
Reba Russell : My earliest influences were big band, Glenn Miller , Billie Holiday , and more from my parents. But soon I discovered Elvis , The Beatles , Jimi Hendrix , Led Zeppelin , James Brown , Ray Charles, and those kind of folks through my siblings' record collections. I loved to sing along. However, my real influences when I started to play were Memphis people like Jimmy Jamison , Joyce Cobb , Rufus Thomas , Rick Christian , and the people who were out in public locally on a regular basis. I also loved Tracy Nelson , Irma Thomas , Bonnie Raitt , Janis Joplin , and Koko Taylor , but I didn't get to see them perform very much. I still love Rock and Pop music as well as old school Country, but none of it could compare to hearing Mose Vinson or Albert King or Furry Lewis live on Beale Street out in Handy Park BW: Wayne [husband and bassist] said you two only got more into the Blues when you met Robert Nighthawk Tooms. Describe your music through your career. RR : When we put my first band together we did everything from Jackson Browne to Jimi Hendrix to Patsy Cline . I sort of eventually went Top Forty because we could work so much more, but we always kept some Blues and R&B influences, too, stuff like Muddy [ Waters ] and Aretha [ Franklin ]. Right before I decided to go strictly Blues we were heavy into Pink Floyd , Led Zeppelin and stuff like that. Somehow, it just stopped getting me off. We had friends who played with Robert Nighthawk Tooms. Every time I would go hear them, the Wampus Cats , I would tell Wayne, "Man, I love that stuff! I want to play with that guy." Before I even met Robert, I loved to go see him play. He was a true Bluesman down to the soles of his feet. The Blues just kept speaking to me. My band at the time was voted the best band in Memphis and about two months later I fired everybody and just went in the other direction. That was about 1992. That is when I began to write more and decided to someday try to make my own CD. I had got signed to the great producer Chips Moman around 1986 who had returned to Memphis in the late 1980s. After not getting a deal and working so hard with Chips I let that go, too. We had been known as this great Top Forty dance band so when I changed horses I wasn't so popular in Memphis anymore. I did a long stint on Beale Street - about eight years - so that is when I discovered I was really a Blues singer. I loved it, I got off on it, and it never mattered how I felt, the Blues could get me in the mood to perform. It was so great to meet Dawn [ Hopkins ] in 1994 or 1995 because she was so cool and I wanted to work with a female engineer. She was the house engineer for BB King's club for ten years. She and I hooked up and five albums later we are still a team. Like Wayne, Dawn has been instrumental in creating the Reba Russell Band sound as well as being my dear friend. She has introduced me to so many people in the Blues World and without her help I am not sure I could have come as far as I have. BW: Isn't Hopkins your producer, too? RR : Yes. Generally I do the music and tracking sessions to help the band get through that and Dawn produces me. She does all the recording and engineering; she's really the brains of the whole thing, quite honestly. She is my equal business partner and we are the Blue Eyed Bitches Productions. She has known Jimmy Thackery for years and years and that was how I got introduced to Jimmy was through Dawn. [Editor's Note: Reba has recorded with Thackery and appeared live with him in Canada this summer, including at the Edmonton Labatt's Blues Festival.]
BW: How can you succeed being independent of a record label?
RR : I have made five records now with no [record company] help and each of them have paid for themselves and paid for the next record as well as giving the band a little something on top of that. I try to tell young artists, you sell a thousand records for fifteen dollars apiece - that's fifteen thousand dollars! Now if you can't make a record for fifteen thousand dollars these days, what with Pro Tools and such...now granted it's cheap; it's not like a major artist gets...but you can do it. You get to own your masters and if you want to sell it to a record company later you absolutely can. You have more leverage because you own everything. Years ago I got told by a record company that wanted to sign me and I had already sold about a thousand copies by then. He said, "We'll just send 3,000 or 4,000 CDs out and we'll just blanket for promotions and radio stations and stuff." I told him, "OK, but I can sell 4,000 and if I do I'll make $60,000!" It was complete silence on the other end because I don't think any record company had ever conceived of an artist receiving a hundred percent of the profit! Selling 2,000 or 3,000 CDs in a year, if you want to get your fanny out there and play is not a hard thing to do. And that's not even counting website sales or digital distribution you might have. I'm not against record companies; I think they're great - for big artists. But if you are just looking to make a little money and do some CDs and get your art out there in the world it's not as hard as people think. I just encourage young people that are writing to think on those terms and not to be so excited about giving fifty percent of what you have to somebody else. Have a professional manufacturer do it; the rates are very reasonable these days. You got to be a serious musician. It's worked for me and I know other musicians, too.
BW: How well has Broke Down But Not Out been received?
RR : It's done very, very well. Sales have been good. You can get it from my website or bandvillage.com. I'm not out there a lot, but at these festivals we do pretty well on CD sales. I am getting some great airplay on XM Satellite's Bluesville . You can't [overestimate] that - if somebody likes your record and plays it, you know, worldwide on satellite radio. I am fortunate enough that several [of my songs] get played. Off the latest CD is "Without Your Love," which is a ballad as well as a couple of EG Kight songs. From my old material, from the City of the Blues CD, "Heaven Came to Helena" gets played quite a bit.
BW: Can you give an example of the importance of radio play?
RR : When I get out in the world and play that's where you see the effects of that. I played in Wyoming and people came up and asked, "Are you going to play such and such, like 'Move To Mississippi' [from City of the Blues ] today?" So it really kind of takes you back because you don't expect anybody to know who you are or what's up. So, if you get some good airplay it makes all the difference in the world.
D'Arcy Ballinger for BluesWax : I don't know what happens, but when you come to the Kankakee area, you have a legion of fans that just absolutely go crazy. Everywhere I go it's "When is Reba Russell coming back?"
RR : Awww, that's great to hear; that's wonderful!
BW: I just wondered if that happens everywhere you go?
RR : Well, I am lucky enough to make a lot of return trips to some clubs and festivals. It's always amazing to see people who've come back and come back year after year to hear you and support you. That's one of the reasons it's worth it to go out on the road - is to see those people you made friends with while you were there. Yeah, [laughing] it always freaks me out that people come back again and again. And it's great to play for brand new crowds, which I did a lot of this year, too. It's interesting - their reactions.
BW: Let's talk about a couple of songs from the latest CD. My wife gets a chuckle from the tenth track, "It Takes A Mighty Good Man" (to be better than no man at all) written by EG Kight.
RR : Amen! But, look, Wayne and I just had our twentieth wedding anniversary - we're both very secure. But I'm singing that for all the women out there, because I know I'm lucky to get one, you know. I know what I'm talking about.
BW: What thinking went into putting "Got A One Track Mind" first on the album? Editor's Note: the opening track by Delta Joe Sanders is not the full band found on the other numbers. It's just acoustic guitar, harmonica, and Reba singing some outrageously humorous and sexy lyrics about making love.
RR : Well, [laughing] remember you're talking about the B.E.B. [Blue Eyed Bitches] Production company here! When Delta Joe sang that song I just knew I had to do it - because, first of all, I never heard another song with " D.N.A. " as a part of the song (" I want another taste of your DNA "). It was so sassy it tickled me and I just loved it and decided I wanted to cut it. I just had Delta Joe and Robert Nighthawk Tooms there in the studio and we just laid it down acoustic - on the floor - just having fun. Delta Joe is one of the best writers ever. I have one of his songs on every one of my CDs. So, when it came time to sequence the record, that song didn't fit anywhere! And I didn't want to put it at the very end of the record because I figured half the people will never hear it. If it's at the tail-end and they don't like my CD they're not going to listen to the whole thing. So, Dawn and I just decided what the heck - it's only two minutes and something long, let's just stick it on the front of the record. [laughs] That is really honestly the logic to that whole thing. That's the good thing about being the record executives, owning my masters and me and Dawn having control over everything - we can do whatever we want. We don't have to listen to somebody telling us, "Now, that is the wrong thing to do!" or "That song shouldn't even be on this record!" or whatever. We don't deal with any of that.
James Walker for BluesWax : Explain the line " What we do to each other, we do to ourselves " from the final track.
Reba Russell : That is off the song "Hard To Live." I hate to say that I'm a bleeding-heart liberal or anything, but I am a child of the Sixties. I have a hard time dealing with weapons and things like that. I want every American to have [the right to own] a gun; I just don't like war, you know. I know there is nothing I can do about it, so I just write things. That song is really about people discovering how to make weapons. I know that is a deep subject.
What we do to each other is what we do to ourselves - everybody I admire has said that: Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, a lot of people, and I just believe that. War produces terrible things - like torture. None of it makes any sense to me. I love them [the enemy] as much as anybody and I pray for our enemies just as hard as I pray for our troops. I want everybody to get along and love each other!
But, I know I'm living in a different world now. I live in a hard, hard city [Memphis]. The gang activity, along with lack of education and poverty, has turned [parts of] Memphis into a killing field the past few years. Unbelievable crime - children die here everyday from stray gunshots and things like that. It is very, very sad.
I'm an old person. I remember what it was like to have peace even though we had the Cold War going on and Vietnam. Things were just not as hateful even then as they are now. It seems there is less and less showing of affection for each other. I know I have troops to thank for keeping me safe, and it's just a confusing world to live in. So, the only thing I know to do is just to make my music and say what I can say trying not hurt anybody - at all. I'm just trying to make a few people feel better or understand me or be happier, you know. That's all I can do!
We can all do things in our everyday lives in just little, teeny tiny ways to try to make people feel better about themselves and each other. Stop road rage, don't jump the line at the grocery store [laughs], just little things. I think we should all be for each other and take a stand on things.
"Hard To Live" is probably the least-liked song, but that really is my particular favorite. The vocal is off the floor; that's the scratch vocal I sang when we laid the track down. It has several meanings to me. Every bit of that song is coming from a very emotional place inside of me from being with my mother while she was dying.
When people first start hearing it, [the music] is up-tempo and you can dance to it. And the next thing you know they realize that [the lyrics] are very depressing [laughs]. If I had done it as a slow Blues it might have made more sense to some people, but to me it makes perfect sense. Thank goodness I don't have anybody telling me what to do.
BW: I really like "House of Love" [written by Russell].
RR : That's a funny thing - "House of Love" almost didn't cut; I didn't really like it. Dawn [ Hopkins ] liked it and the band thought it was good and so we cut it. I should have put some background vocals on it and didn't because I wasn't really taking the song seriously. [laughing] And people love that song! I was like...'Is this too cheesy?' I am so glad it turned out people like it. And that's one reason why Dawn is the producer! She's really the last word on a number of issues.
BW: You sound angry in "Paint It Red" about Memphis.
RR : Well, I'm getting old I guess. You know, old people don't like things to change. That song is my rebellion against the "big city" in general, wherever it is. I'm not saying I hate metropolitan areas, but in ours in particular [Memphis] - you see certain things happening [tearing down the original Stax studios] and it gets under your skin.
BW: What is your take on the "new" Beale Street?
Note: the original Beale Street buildings were mostly torn down and replaced with glitzy, neon lit clubs catering to tourists and twenty-somethings.
RR : You can still hear Blues there, but you gotta come during the peak Blues times. Even during the International Blues Challenge and the Blues Music Awards you still don't get the same type of Roots music available that there used to be. It's a function of the times. I understand that they're trying to draw everybody there, and that Blues is kind of a thing of the past. Most of the older gentlemen and women that played Blues here have passed away. So they're looking for a younger crowd down there, I think. But at the same time, I think [Beale Street] should be iconic of the Blues. That's where my disagreement lies with the folks that run things.
There is still Blues on Beale Street, but it's usually in the tinier clubs. I have to say that Rum Boogie [Cafe] really has kept a better Blues slate than probably many of the other clubs on the street. I have to give them some props. Generally, you'll hear Blues in there during the week. At the same time I don't think it's promoted properly, and I don't think Blues musicians in general across the board get enough props.
BW: Please speak to the state of the Blues and keeping Blues alive.
RR : Well, you know, writers like me - you couldn't categorize my music as Blues thirty years ago; whereas today it is. I think that, in the Deep South, some of us who still do relate to a lot of this music and try to keep it alive, are playing our version of what it is for us now. I think all the independent and small Blues labels that are out there with their artists are doing the best job they possibly can. Blues is still alive and out there, and Blues societies are very strong across America. You got to keep your fingers crossed, but it's one of those genres where you just have to tough it out.
All Roots music has a core, not a mass following. There're fans that follow just Bluegrass and Reggae and some of those genres that come from the heart of the people just like Blues and Jazz do in our part of the country. It always lingers and somebody is always interested in looking at it including some young people, but just not in the masses like Top Forty or Country music right now.
BW: One final thing, please explain your ability to remain so sincere and unaffected in the music world.
RR : Well, that's just me. I mean that's me, that's who I am, that's who I've always been. I don't want to be different or special from everybody else. I'm just like everybody else; I just can sing. Some people can cook and some people can...you know. I love being appreciated for my art. That is what it's all about - people clapping, and smiling, and buying my CD, and telling me it meant something to them. That's the whole reason you go out in public, and do it, and make your money from it. It's a joyous thing to be able to play an instrument and sing. I love musicians and I think we are important to the world, but I think teachers are important to the world, too, [laughs] you know? Fathers and mothers and all those things.
I can keep my feet on the ground, first of all because I have a great husband, you know. I had a great mother, and a good upbringing, and a good, solid foundation. I got Jesus in my heart, too, so I got a lot of things going for me.
But at the same time it's wonderful to be recognized and it's wonderful to be able to almost make a living doing what I love to do! That's the payoff.
Because I don't owe money, I don't owe a record company money, I don't have to push myself into not liking what I do. If you stay on the road 8, 10, 12, 14, 16 weeks at a time - I understand why people are on drugs, and alcoholics, and mad. I think the road absolutely beats people down; it does! It's hard, it is hard ! Listen, I've tried to do that [laughs] - it's hard! Just leave everything behind, just don't think about the problems at home, you don't worry about - you know, it's impossible! I mean it's just a very difficult thing. The people who do it do deserve respect. Because, I'm telling you, it is extremely difficult!
If you've spent 10 years on the road, how do you think you can build some kind of roof somewhere? A lot of musicians are being pushed and hounded by the people who own them.
That's the sad part about it, but it is the Blues. [laughing] What can I say?
James Walker is a senior contributing editor at BluesWax. You may contact James at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Blues Revue Review#21/05- Eric Thom November 11 2005> Reba Russell Band Broke Down But Not Out (Blue Eyed Bitches Productions)
Somewhere between the full throated, gospel charged firepower of Bonnie Bramlett and the gentle, seductive soul of early Rita Coolidge, you'll find Memphis singer songwriter Reba Russell sitting pretty. Like Coolidge and Bramlett, she's made her name as backup singer providing aural ammunition for acts ranging from Jimmy Thackery, Johnny Cash and U2, to Tracy Nelson and Walter Trout. So, after taking part in hundreds of productions together with five solid solo records of her own, the fact that she's learned a thing or two along the way is self-evident with Broke Down. Subtlety and the school of less is more is a lesson learned from friend and Memphis-based mentor Jim Dickinson. It is what this release is all about as Russell showcases her own tunes, some of her band members and a blend of covers by EG Kight and William Lee Ellis. The result is a near-eclectic set of 13 songs that run the gamut of blues, R&B and everything -in-between, reflective of her chosen home town. Reba jumps into the salaciously delightful "Got A One Track Mind" - a song destined to induce wolf howls from her male fans for life. Blessed with a pure, clear voice, Russell adds smoke to the fire with "Sister Friend"- a funky group grope that celebrates sisters, involving a neo-gospel chorus (compliments of the Beavas) and some crisp guitar from Josh Roberts. The blues dial is turned up with "Your Up is Down" as Robert Nighthawk Tooms' double duty on piano and harp ups the honky tonk on this Ellis number. Russell's torchy take on Kight's "Just One More" shows her lighter, sweeter side, if not her Coolidge influence. Wayne Russell's Off the Clock (and on the floor) takes a swipe at crappy jobs, spiced up by Rick Steff's accordion for added zydeco zest, yet her vocals are better suited to another original, "Need A Healin", which pumps up Tooms' harp and Roberts' guitar, testifying even more convincingly. The hazy groove of "Just Stay Stoned" makes more of the combination of her crack rhythm section of James Robertson (drums) and Husband, Wayne Russell (bass) as guitarist Roberts and B3 player Tooms get longer leashes. "House Of Love" is a power track that-once again- underlines Russell's sultry side as she moves from simmer to boil. Think Sugar Walls as Josh Roberts' guitar takes on a southern sound, bathed in the warmth of Tooms' understated B3. "Without Your Love" is a key track, exercising Russell's gospel side as it digs a little deeper into her soul side, bolstered by a strong back-up chorus and Tooms' churchy B3. Russell is comfortable vamping up Kight's "It Takes a Mighty Good Man" with the help of Tooms' sensational piano and and harp work while "Rivertown" gets tough, ramping up guitar and harmonica and overall intensity. The album's most affecting track is Russell's own "Paint it Red", which documents Memphis and its unwillingness to preserve its past in an unthinking quest for its future. Clearly her heart is behind this admonition - you can hear the hurt in her voice, accentuated by Robert's crying turns on slide guitar - this is the stuff that cripples bad politicians. "Hard to Live" closes out the album with an upbeat blues track that is a soulful cry for more love in a cold world, the band at home with a tight groove under Russell's commanding lead. Wake up to a big voice with a big heart and a bag of tricks that has yet to show bottom. Reba Russell is doing it her way, independently, and taking her crack band with her. She's a little more refined on this outing and, like a favorite, full-bodied wine, the finish is smooth and rewarding.
"Blues Matters - UK (International Blues & Blues Rock Review Magazine" - Author: Billy Hutchinson
REBA RUSSELL “Broke Down, But Not Out” Blue Eyed Bitches Productions The title is a testament to Reba’s fortitude for the lady has had an emotionally heavy year, but Reba is putting out big time, as she is turning a negative into a positive. Furthermore, as Reba was low with her Mother’s failing health she still had tears for us Brits during the bombings in London . Empathy is such a strong bond in the Blues, and as Janis Ian, Reba Russell is strong enough to rise above the stuff life hurls her way. The opening track is a hot mama number which allows us to hear all Reba’s vocal nuances backed only by acoustic guitar and neat harp. If you only have to listen to one track please make it Reba’s rebel stance against Memphis ’ sell out attitude on “Paint It Red”. There is a picture of Reba on the CD liner that has more than a passing resemblance to Susan Sarandon in “Thelma & Louise”. Wayne Russell’s country cum zydeco number is a strong track, followed by a track that could have well fallen off a Delta Moon disc. “House of Love” could have been a product of the Capricorn records period, a sound that captured the attention of no less than Eric Clapton. Another lovely ballad is followed by a bawdy number that recalls music vaudeville/tent show fare. “Rivertown” has a Fleetwood Mac “Oh Well” type chorus, and as elsewhere tasty guitar & harp. “Hard to Live” is a perennial tale of the state of the nation, and the way we are living. Reba Russell produces consistently fine albums, and provides the listener with great vocals from rousing belters to sweet feminine ballads. Rich music from the beautiful South, where the deal is as real as the people. Billy Hutchinson.
Tom Clarke / The King Biscuit Times71 Capitol Place, Rensselaer, New York 12144 (518) 477-7700Field Hollerin' By Tom Clarke May 2003"Blues Revue" - December-January 2003 Author: Hal Horowitz
"Damn near as good as being in a club on Beale Street." Three albums into the game and the Reba Russell Band have scored every time. Restless is another collection so alluring and feisty, so rough and ready, it's no wonder Russell's considered among the best blues singers down there in Memphis, the city of the blues. And what a band! The core- Russell, her husband Wayne on bass, and keys-man Robert Nighthawk Tooms- are now complimented by the extraordinary guitarist Brad Webb and drummer Gary Adair, both new since the last record. Webb, side by side with Tooms, completes one hellacious tag team, perfectly accentuating Russell's every stormy phrase. The songs run the gamut. In "Dark New Sun," a classic twelve bars becomes a gale force. The sublime voices of the Masqueraders add heavenly gospel fire to "As Angels Do." "Restless" is a barrelhouse boogie spiked with delta wires. Stomping and foreboding best describes "Wished I Was Noah." There's nothing groundbreaking here; just hard, top-notch, well-produced Memphis blues, that's all. Order the disc, view photos, and read up on Reba and the band at www.rebarussell.com.
"Blues Revue" - December-January 2003 Author: Hal Horowitz
Though Memphis has never regained the soul-blues luster it seemed to naturally exude in the '60's and '70's, it's still home to a thriving scene. Reba Russell isn't exactly leading the city back to its glory days, but she's a stunning example of how its sound is still alive and well.Blues, soul, funk, gospel, and rock 'n' roll have long been the major ingredients in the city's barbecue, and Russell adds simmering hot sauce to the concoction. With strains of Lou Ann Barton's sassy twang, Susan Tedeschi's gritty R&B, and Tracy Nelson's bone shaking power, Russell croons, grinds, and testifies through 11 examples of Memphis music. Drawing predominantly from originals written by the singer and her longtime band. Restless also offers a version of Jimmy Thackery's "Putting Out Fires (That Ain't Started Yet)" that has her pounding it out with teeth-rattling conviction . . . . Russell's tough voice is lightened by a touch of innocence mixed with sly, subtle sexuality. One listen to the stirring ballad "Back to You" where the singer reaches into the song and socks you in the gut with her intensity, should convince anyone she's one of the finest white R&B singers working today. Like Russell herself, Restless is Memphis to its core.
"Blues Matters - UK (International Blues & Blues Rock Review Magazine" - Author: Billy Hutchinson
If you went along with my recommendation of the last Reba Russell CD then her follow-up won't disappoint either. Reba is still building a formidable catalogue not just simply making time. A woefully under-recognized female vocalist as Kathi McDonald, Reba is as southern as any Magnolia the epitome of what makes Memphis music so varied and strong. This gal can command a torch song then turn around, and produce an emotive ballad as soon as the band strikes up again and that ain't all there are rock/blues, gospel touches, funky work outs, and country to hokum. This album launches in a Bonnie Raitt-ish way, slide guitar aside a great accented vocal within a swaggering number making a bold imprint. Though 'Just A Fine Wine" is less in-your-face it too has a solid stamp on it. The beat slows right down for a muscular blues, which makes way for a vaudeville/hokum type sassy blues. A brooding guitar lead rock/blues then struts out ahead of a soul/gospel thought provoking tale. . . "Thought Of A Man" has Reba changing from her jeans into a flowery gown, a smoochy ballad that waltz's by. The gear changes into an easy going funky vane, a laid out lament takes us up to the last track; a pop country tune that evokes the early 70's (which indeed most of Reba's work draws on). R&R stands for rest & relaxation, which conveniently goes for the same as listening to Reba Russell. If you can't get your local record store to order it either pitch-a-bitch or log-on to rebarussell.com . . .Billy Hutchinson
"Blues Matters" (International Blues & Blues Rock Review Magazine/March-June 2001 - Issue No. 4 - Michael Messer and John Mayall
This is another one of those quality self releases from the States, coming from Reba Russell & Dawn Hopkins "Blue Eyed Bitches" Production Company. Reba can be categorized as one of the pretty white girls with a gravely rock edge to her voice. Reba comes over at times like Bonnie Raitt & Kathy McDonald, I'm not suggesting she's a sound alike, just that she is endowed with high quality tonsils. Reba Russell is a veritable Tardis, small on the outside, with a great big voice from within, if you log on to www.rebarussell.com, you will find that Reba is a very in demand vocalist, having guested on a who's who of top albums says our Billy Hutchinson. Reba has written two songs of her own, while R. Tooms, J. Shcicke & W. Russell pen one each & one collectively. That leaves covers by J. Sanders, Chips. Moman, W. Dixon, B. Flett & F. Knobloch/Steve Goodman. The band is predominately R&B, but apart from raunchy belters there's also a country ballad, burlesque and a jump jive number. A dedication to the late Frank Frost is a drawn out sleazy groove, with a gospel chorus that gushes in, on "Heaven Came to Helena". The band do a slightly different arrangement of "Love is Forever" than the one to be found on Jelly Roll Johnson's CD "and a few friends", by the songs co-author Fred Knobloch. There's an interesting duet with Tracy Nelson on Willie Dixon's "When the Lights Go Out", which is under promoted in the small print of the liner notes.How do I rate Mrs. Russell? . . . well I'd think twice about putting a Susan Tedeschi CD on when there's a Reba Russell one lying around. Arriba Reba!
Reba Russell, City of the Blues, Fat Chance Records:
Reba Russell has been burning up the Memphis blues circuit for a while now, doing both backup and solo work, hoping for more national exposureand that ever-elusive break that all musicians need. Russell takes no prisoners and holds nothing back with her straightforward, righteous approach, tackling straight blues and Memphis-styled R&B with equal fervor. She sounds a bit like Bonnie Rait here and there, but the strength of the songs and performances basically negate any similarities. Tracy Nelson makes an appearance on one cut, and Russell's husband Wayne plays bass. All in all, a fine effort from a criminally underrated singer and her hot band. This is Russell's second disc and can be ordered from Sound Unreel Studio's . . . or her website.
Tom Clarke/Hittin' The Note71 Capitol Place, Rensselaer, N.Y. 12144 (518) 477-7700Spring 2001
Reba Russell, the highly regarded Memphis singer who shores up the background on Thackery's album, takes another giant step of her own with a lively tour through City of the Blues. This sassy lady belts 'em out with unlimited power, control and God-given soul. And besides being a skilled interpreter, she knows how to write. For anyone familiar with the blues history surrounding the Memphis-Helena-Clarksdale corridor, her imaginatively descriptive "Heaven Came to Helena" is worth the price of this ticket alone. Otherwise, she imbues Chips Moman's melancholy "Dry River" with such class that hers would seem to be the definitive version. Along with her blue ribbon band, such a lowdown, contagious buzz is caused on "Your Love is All You Got" that it's astonishing to hear them also swing with unwavering finesse on both "Another Saturday Night" and keyboards player Robert Nighthawk Tooms' "Swing 'n' Sway." Perfectly produced here, the piping hot Reba Russell Band seems poised to take a dive into the major leagues. Bet on it. (Fat Chance)
As appeared in Blues Review, December 2000, Author Art Tipaldi
After nearly wearing a hole in Reba Russell's first disc, Buried Treasure, I was ready for this Memphis Blues hotshot's follow up. I was not dissappointed. At the center of Russell's art is her vocal delivery; her commanding chops demand attention during even a casual listening session. Like the most talented muscians, Russell is a master at discovering new ways to express her pain and joy - an upturn to a syllable here, a glide there. Russell's highly proffessional band - Wayne Russell on bass, Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms doubling on keyboards and harmonica, and Joe Schicke (here, full of youthful spontaneity) on guitar - returns from her previous disc. The addition of singer Tracy Nelson on a cover of Willie Dixon's "When the Lights Go Out" is the vocal equivalent of having Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix trade guitar licks. Scott Thompson and Jim Spake add Memphis style horns to the R&B opening track "Part-Time Love" and the jumping 1940s-style "Swing N Sway." Russell's come-hither approach on "A Lover Is Forever: could make a monk lustful, and her reading of "Dry River" is equally sensual. On "Your Love Is All You Got" she glides her story around Shicke's slide and Toons' grittyChicago harp. Russell's own "Heaven Came to Helena" tells the story of the torrential rain that engulfed her King Biscuit Festival performance in 1999; I was there, and her line, "The sky opened up, but the music kept flowing," describes the spirit of that day as perfectly as any snapshot could. On her other original, the rocking, Texas-style shuffle "Gonna Move to Mississippi," Russell laments the frind of playing blues in cities like Memphis and resolves to move back to Mississippi, "where nobody gives a damn." Though she's turning up on more and more of Jim Gaines' recordings as a background singer, City of the Blues offers further proof that Russell's voice has the power to be out front. She delivers music as haunting as what you might hear when she's in the house at the Black Diamond on Beale Street.
The Commercial Appeal Saturday June 24, 2000. Red Hot is a monthly review column by Bill Ellis, The Commercial Appeal, 495 Union, Memphis, TN 38103.
City Of The Blues CD Review
Life isn't always fair. While Susam Tedeschi is wowing fans nationwide with guitar chops and a voice so green that her charisma needs to be watered daily, one of the most seintillating singers around-Reba Russell-remains a Memphis treasure; she deserves twice the accolades of her younger peer. Russell's most focused album yet, "City of the Blues," finds the belting vocalist stretching out as a songwriter on the admonishing barb Gonna Move to Mississippi and the gospel energized highlight Heaven Came to Helena. She also makes heavenly work of tunes by Chips Moman-Dry River, Bluebirds leader Buddy Flett-Not by Man Alone, and Willie Dixon-When the Lights Go Out, a delirious duet with Russell's piano-playing counterpart Tracy Nelson. The Reba Russell Band-including keyboardist Robert Nighthawk Tooms, who also graces three tracks on the new Blind Mississippi Morris album-flexes its musical and compositional muscles delving into swing, ragtime, New Orleans R&B and hill boogie.
Blues Review Magazine, October 1998 By Art Tipaldi
"Who is Reba Russell? She's been Tracy Nelson's backup voice in concert and on recent recordings, she contributed backup vocals to the latest Jimmy Thackery CD, and she's currently the hottest voice on Beale Street. How Hot? Russell and her high octane band blew the top off the blues tent at this year's Memphis and May Festival. . . If you want an idea of where today's young vocalists may be headed, listen to Russell. At a young 40, Russell has worked hard to discover the vocal maturity and identity young singers are in search of.. Though she can belt it out down and dirty, she also can sand off the rough edges and purr."
The Blues Book Eureka Springs Blues Festival 1998
As Appeared in Women's News of the Mid South Contemporary blues and traditional blues with rock influences best describe The Reba Russell Band. . . Developing a distinctive style, Russell has opened for BB King, The Four Tops, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Tracy Nelson, Leon Russell . . . ."
A BACKUP SINGER TO THE LIKES OF JIMMY THACKERY, TRACY NELSON, AND WALTER TROUT, REBA RUSSELL IS CLEARLY MARRIED TO THE BUSINESS OF THE BLUES (IN FACT HER HUSBAND, WAYNE RUSSELL IS HER BAND'S BASSIST). PART OF HER SECRET WAS LEARNED FROM THE MEMPHIS VOCAL GREATS: RUSSELL KNOWS HOW TO HOLD BACK. WIELDING TRUE VOCAL POWER INVOLVES KNOWING WHEN AND WHERE TO USE IT, AND ON HER SEVENTH ALBUM, SHE DOES THINGS HER WAY. BLEEDING HEART ENCOMPASSES A WIDE RANGE OF STYLES. THE OPENING "RED MISSISSIPPI CLAY" ONE OF FOUR ORIGINALS, EASES THE LISTENER INTO A SLOWLY SIZZLING GROOVE BUILT ON GUITAR, HARP, AND A TIGHT RHYTHM ABOVE WHICH RUSSELL SOARS. THE ORIGINAL "MISS ME" DEMONSTRATES THE SUBTLER ASPECTS OF HER VOICE AS GUITARIST JOSH ROBERTS ADDS SINEWY LEAD LINES. THACKERY'S "MEMPHIS MOON TONIGHT" RECEIVES A TASTEFUL, MELLOW, UPDATE, WHILE THE ORIGINAL "LOVE IS THE CURE" TURNS UP THE HEAT BUT BECOMES PARBOILED BY IT'S LYRICS. "LEVEE PRAYER" A SECOND THACKERY TUNE (HE GUESTS ON BOTH) GETS DOWN TO BUSINESS; RUSSELL TAKES OWNERSHIP OF IT'S SULTRY PACE AND SHOWS OFF HER COMMAND OF THE SCALES. THE BAND GIVES THE SONG A THREATENING, UNSETTLING BACKDROP, WITH ROBERTS CONTRIBUTING ILLUMINATING LEAD GUITAR. THE MORE RUSSELL HURTS. THE BRIGHTER SHE SHINES, AND "TO KNOW YOU" TAKES DOWN THE PACE ANOTHER NOTCH AS HARP AND GUITAR BUILD A PROPER FOUNDATION FOR HER VOICE. "SLEEPLESS NIGHTS ALONE" VEERS OFF IN A DREAMY TORCH-LIKE DIRECTION, REVEALING YET ANOTHER SIDE TO RUSSELL. BLEEDING HEART STANDS AS AN ECLECTIC RELEASE FROM A GREAT VOCALIST, AND THOUGH IT MAY NOT BE HER DEFINITIVE STATEMENT, IT COMES CLOSE. ERIC THOMReview by Blues Blast - 2008 - Reviewer James Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show “Friends of the Blues” can be heard each Thursday from 4:30 – 6:00pm on WKCC 91.1 FM in Kankakee, IL