have been deemed the best
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Critically acclaimed, award winning, Contemporary Jazz vocalist, guitarist and composer, Woody Russell, blurs the lines between Jazz, R&B and Folk. It's a sophisticated musical niche that a handful of artists have occupied where Jazz and Singer-Songwriter crossover (think Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Gregory Porter, Lizz Wright, Al Jarreau, etc.). One could certainly reference the origins of the classic American Songbook for such composers, but Russell's take is decidedly more contemporary.
Growing up in a small college town in Montana, Woody Russell was surrounded by the natural beauty of Big Sky country. What he was not surrounded by was a culture of the arts, of jazz, and certainly not a live music scene of any sort. Nonetheless, music was a deeply fundamental part of his childhood experience by way of a modest but diverse collection of albums, FM radio and a family’s appreciation for music.
“I was, I still am, fascinated by music and musicians,” states Woody. “It was present in every corner of my life, both the internal, as well as, the beautiful outdoor world that I grew up exploring. It held such a grip on my imagination. If I wasn’t actively listening to something, I was singing, finding my way around the guitar or creating recordings on my desktop cassette recorder. I cherished that little machine.”
Decades later, Russell has released a body of recorded work that spans from the early acoustic Folk infused songwriter fare of his first album, …As Simple As That (1996) to the highly praised Blues/Soul release of Up Against It (2010) and the stunning instrumental/orchestral collection, Big Sky (2012). The following year he offered the Pop-Jazz shades of Delicious Days (2013). Russell’s most recent full length album, Carry It Up (2016), further explores his amalgam of Jazz-meets-R&B and Soul, offering an uplifting, thought provoking listen replete with intimate narratives. It's occasionally romantic, often reflective, even sentimental, but balanced by his examination of a broader social consciousness on several tracks. The album focuses on themes of love, compassion, tolerance, respect and the quest for all of the aforementioned. An acoustic cover – Russell’s first - of Marvin Gaye’s chestnut, “What’s Going On”, features the tenor sax of Chi-town transplant, Dez Desormeaux, and is right at home amid the rest of this original work. The end result with Carry It Up is a lush recording that is positively brimming with superb song-craft created by a master tunesmith leading a world class band. Excellent soloists and ensemble interplay are on display throughout. But, what elevates the game, yet again, is Russell’s very fine delivery as a vocalist: equal parts crooner and soul-shouter. There can be no doubt that he possesses a mastery of his vocal instrument which conveys an emotional sincerity with each phrase, each lyrical turn. He navigates the sound of his words with a rhythmic precision and melodic expression akin to jazz improvisation. Comparisons to Al Jarreau, Kurt Elling and flourishes of Van Morrison abound. Then there’s his guitar playing, which Blues Revue likened to “the fearlessness of Jeff Beck”.
Woody Russell is the recipient of the 2013 Bugle Boy Foundation’s Talent Trust Award following Grammy nominee John Fullbright (2012). He is an officially recognized artist of the Texas Commission on the Arts Texas Touring Roster. Texas Touring Roster artists have been “deemed the best in their field by a panel of statewide experts.” Woody takes to the road throughout Texas frequently, as well as select dates in the U.S. and Canada. His live performances, whether solo, with his touring Trio (WR3) or with his full quintet/sextet, have been described as "transcendent" by KDRP radio personality, David Arnberger; engaging audiences through a sincere and "in the moment" connection to his music. Russell was a prominently featured artist on Season One of the CW Network's, "Troubadour, TX"; airing weekly in over 20 million households nationwide from Sept. 2011 through Sept. 2012. He also toured as one of four artists in support of the program.
"Woody Russell is the consummate singer/songwriter, and one of the most believable
lyricists and storytellers I’ve heard in quite some time." - Jazz Quarterly
A NORTH-COUNTRY KID
Growing up near a small Montana college town, Woody lays claim to a "magical childhood" in which a rural setting provided inspiration that still resonates with him today. "I grew up in a beautiful, peaceful place that was a blessing to have experienced as a child and that I have a lot of fond memories of. We lived on a dirt road. The smell of fresh cut alfalfa hung in the air. We watched the sun set from the front porch. I wondered at an infinitely starlit night sky, dreaming, pondering the bigger questions. I'd pedal my bike up and down that road, fish and float the creek behind my house in the summer time. We hiked the mountains. I learned to ski in some of the best snow conditions in the world. My childhood held a deep connection to the outdoors. I was, essentially, a north-country kid. And when the guitar came along - a gift my sister didn't take to - I found it so fascinating. Exploring the instrument brought me closer to my inner world. Music was just always there, every bit as much as the nature of Montana, of Big Sky Country."
But, there was a darker side, as well: parents that split up when he was ten years old and eventually his own struggles with substance abuse as a teenager. "I had some crazy years, took a lot of risks." Russell credits his mother for instilling some resolve that helped him make a much needed change. "She taught me, through her own actions, about compassion, kindness and self reliance. She allowed my creativity to guide me. I think she cultivated a quiet perseverance in us. I knew, even as a child, that she was just managing to hold it together by working hard, believing and hoping that my sister and I would grow in to the lives we wanted to lead." Woody adds that his mother gave him the courage to move out of the house in his late teens and eventually leave Montana behind by the time he was just barely twenty. "I followed the music to Seattle when the opportunity came. That departure put an end to a lot of the trouble I was headed for, undoubtedly. My mother probably new that; as mother's do have a sixth sense about their children's well-being. My love for the music, a good bit a naivety and sheer willpower made for a new beginning. It still feels like a new beginning today. That's the beauty of living a creative life. There's a ever-present sense of uncertainty, but also an unmistakable newness to it."
From a new home base in a city that offered much more culture and opportunity, a young Woody Russell began to connect with a larger community of musicians. He was, as he is now, always pursuing his own brand of music. "Being in Seattle was a first a bit scary for a country kid. But, it put me in touch with a music scene that forced me to find my way and hone my chops. I was never really interested in learning a lot of songs that were often seen as important to know by some of the older cats who were on the scene. So I made it harder on myself by avoiding those lessons. At that time, for me, it was a lot of blues-rock and some folky songwriters that I was in to, but my love for jazz was ever present. It was evolving from early on; I just didn't know how to connect the dots yet. I was lucky to know some great musicians who instilled some important lessons in me. Eventually though, I had to make my own way toward understanding how all of these seemingly different styles would inform my own music."
Fast forward to an eventual move to Austin with his, then, new wife, Jeanne. "Austin is a major music scene, with it's own ups and downs, it's own cliche's, but a potent community of genuinely gifted musicians." Woody Russell is now several albums and, in his own words, "light years" beyond the music of his earliest efforts. "I'm a late bloomer, I suspect, and perhaps I've always been an old soul. I've had to carve out my own niche because I simply didn't come to music through school or a more formal musical upbringing. It was purely a matter of heart and soul and raw discovery. Music was a language that spoke deeply to me as a kid and eventually became a passionate outlet, an identity and almost a forgone conclusion that I'd spend my life dedicated to this art-form."
THE WR TRIO
The touring Woody Russell Trio features Austin based “A-list” musicians. A rotating cast of players from Russell's larger ensembles is heard in the Trio setting. Their world-class performances offer audiences a mesmerizing, uplifting concert experience fueled by stellar musicianship and guided by Russell's sophisticated songwriting. The Trio format has been developing over the course of many tours throughout the US in an aim to further the possibilities within the context of a small group.
Woody takes to the road throughout the U.S frequently. His live performances, whether solo, Trio or with his full band, have been described as "transcendent" by KDRP radio personality, David Arnsberger; engaging audiences through a sincere and "in the moment" connection to his music. Critically praised as an "exemplary" guitarist, an “exceptional singer” and songwriter of the highest caliber - a "total artist package", Woody Russell delivers seasoned performances with over twenty-five years as a professional musician to his credit. Respected music industry veteran and President of BE Music and Entertainment, Michael Blanton, calls him "one of the best kept secrets in the world of live performance today."
TEXAS TOURING ROSTER ARTIST
Woody Russell is an officially recognized artist of the Texas Commission on the Arts Texas Touring Roster. Texas Touring Roster artists have been deemed the best in their field by a panel of statewide experts.
Bringing his artistry to folks in hospice care is also part of Woody Russell's commitment to making music as an offering of healing. The Austin based, non-profit organization Swan Songs, headed by fellow artist, Christine Albert, coordinates and facilitates the connection between artist and hospice care recipient.
"These are sensitive, poignant moments for these folks and their families, obviously. I approach each concert with the aim of providing some comfort, creating something uplifting in what is often a sad, emotionally difficult time. So, in that regard, it’s a very powerful reminder of what my role as an artist, a musician, is about at its deepest level. I learned long ago that I am in the business of touching people’s hearts, which is exactly what Swan Songs is offering these folks."
Woody is an "Artist Advocate" for the non-profit, Project AK-47; a non-profit organization dedicated to rescuing kids from a violent life of child soldiering and prostitution. As part of the Project AK47 Advocate Alliance, he is committed to sharing their vision and furthering their mission. Project AK-47 exists to rescue child soldiers from lives of violence, restore their identities, and reshape regions of conflict. Visit WR's "Project AK-47" page for more details.
BLUZSKOOL / CREATIVE COURAGE
Woody is also a founding member of BluzSkool, along with harmonica ace, Jose Ruiz. The Creative Courage program is very similar in format, but does not include the harmonica portion of the performance. Both are live events which bring a dynamic and interactive musical "clinic" to elementary aged children in often under-served communities. These performances includes on-stage participation; singing, dancing and percussion in a highly charged improvisational performance atmosphere that helps nurture self-confidence, as well as, developing an understanding of how individual creativity can be applied in many facets of life, from school studies to careers. Russell also emphasizes a respect for the creativity of others.
Woody Russell was a prominently featured artist on Season One of the CW Network's, "Troubadour, TX"; airing weekly in over 20 million households nationwide from Sept. 2011 through Sept. 2012. He also toured as one of four artists chosen to represent the program.
The show has since shifted focus to the Texas country music scene exclusively. It has also been reformatted to a half-hour program. The TTX website will continue to host all videos and interviews from Season One. You can find many excerpts from WR's appearances on the program on the Video page of this site.
Episodes featuring his performances and story continue to be rebroadcast.
If you’re looking for the kind of music and artistry that won’t let up, even after being shifted by the constant bombardment of today’s unrelenting flurry of continuous releases, then pack your bags and follow me. Woody Russell is the consummate singer/songwriter, and one of the most believable lyricists and storytellers I’ve heard in quite some time. With a showcase of high-end signature pieces, Russell’s latest endeavor, Carry It Up, packs a wallop of pop-infused jazz, soul and rock flavorings that will send you on an unforgettable expedition through fascinating hues of ingenious songwriting and immaculate production – track after track after track. I personally find it absolutely astonishing that a team of such aptitude hasn’t flooded the charts the way this music has totally invaded and persuaded my spirit. But, trust me, that’s all about to change. In short, ladies and gentlemen, and to put it bluntly, Woody is “Best of Class”; hands down.
RootsTime (Carry It Up review translated from Dutch)
[Russell's] work has sometimes been compared to that of artists like Sting, Gregory Porter and Van Morrison, and we can certainly find [that] in there. For example, Last Time, Savannah would not be out of place in the more jazzy repertoire of Gregory Porter. We also have some favorite songs on this record. A Place In Line, The Heart Is Still King, the cleverly arranged Let's Be Done and Victory, the playful, jazzy Empty Man and, of course, What's Going On.
“He’s drawing on personal experience, expressing a sweet melancholy, the bittersweet of all facets of love from the individual heart to the burden of humanity. Russell sings with a mixture of urgency, passion, pain and hope and has gathered together a tremendously talented group of musicians.”
RootsTime (Delicious Days review translated from Dutch)
"One of the most interesting musical cities in the world, especially where we're concerned, is Austin,Texas. And again, they have a promising talent and that's Woody Russell. At the moment, in our CD player, is Delicious Days; a varied new album with 11 new fully self-written songs. They are characterized by the sophisticated arrangements and a very thoughtful, fresh approach in its implementation. Not only pure blues and soul this time, but a more pop targeted approach with hints of soul, some funky jazz, but also a touch of blues. Listen to "Just Playing Along", for example, and you'll know what we mean. The title song, which ends this CD is a gem. The sax of Dez Desormeaux is definitely worth mentioning and the production is crystal clear. Another of my favorite songs is "Near Miss", a song like the song mentioned above, which evokes memories of the soft jazzy soul music of Gino Vanelli and here and there some Hall & Oates. With the ensuing "Steady On", however, we are very much back in some harder contemporary sounds. Varied enough so, it is not so easy to paste a label on it. However, one thing is certain: there are a lot of the listens to Delicious Days to come!
Woody was on the cover of the March 2014 issue of Rockstar Magazine. The following is an excerpt from the article:
"I’m very fortunate to be able to keep doing this work and to have an incredible band, dedicated fans and a very supportive family. Like raising a child, it’s takes a village to pull off this kind of career with any level of success and I’m grateful every day for the support from all involved. Again, my name may be on the marquee, but it’s never just a one man show."
Read the complete article here
"Woody Russell has crafted a lovely collection of original blues and soul music. A pair of rockers reminiscent of SRV are exceptions on Up Against It (Cats Up The Street Music), where the Austin singer-guitarist puts contemporary touches on number of classic styles, updating roadhouse shuffles and Howlin' Wolf stomps, blending Curtis Mayfield with Stevie Wonder on "Under My Door", toughening the creamy soul of Willie Mitchell's Memphis productions in "Right Side Of The Grass", and exploring electric and acoustic R&B ballads. Russell dials in a variety of appealing guitar tones; his crisp, inventive lines blend funk and blues with Jeff Beck's fearlessness. If there's a knock, it's that Russell plays too much guitar: his melodies and songs would easily stand up with a minimum of decoration." - Tom Hyslop, Blues Revue
“Russell’s guitar work is exemplary and his vocals alternate between fiery and soulful… a strong composer with a unique perspective on the blues. If you like your blues with a touch of soul and rock, Up Against It will be a satisfying purchase.” - Graham Clarke, Blues Bytes (read complete review here)
"Woody Russell brings an excitingly fresh, diverse and dynamic approach to the blues with his newest release "Up Against It". Strong compostions with melodic vocals firmly anchored with a driving, top notch band. Pick up a copy and give it a spin...you'll be glad you did. " - The Blues Hound , 90.1 FM KPFT Houston
"If I had to describe Woody Russell’s new album Up Against It in two words it would be “GOD DAMN!” This record is like air and blood: necessary for life... pure genius in the form of Texas blues. Stevie Ray Vaughan himself is tapping his toes and tipping his hat to Woody from the great blues club in the sky." - Doug Morrissey, MusikReviews.com (Read complete review here)
"Woody Russell's musicianship and vocal delivery on this album are second to none... a very good musician, an exceptional singer and let's not forget his songwriting that seals the deal for this total package artist. " - John Vermilyea , The Blues Report / BluesUndergroundNetwork.com (Read complete review here)
"Blues artist Woody Russell does a great job of melding the old and new to create something that will appeal to a wide range of listeners. His voice is definitely old soul and full of soul. His guitar playing flows from traditional Texas blues to searing, E.V.H. bursts of fret board prowess
to 60’s Stax/Volt soul with lots of funk rhythms and riffs sprinkled throughout. Russell opens “Up Against It” with the red hot blues number “Make It Tough on Me” and winds it all down with a little heartfelt soul ditty entitled “Between Nowhere and Goodbye”. Everything in between is like the butter and honey in the biscuit. Good stuff." - J.R. Oliver, Ear Candy (www.earcandymag.com)
“He's got some powerful, gut-emanating pipes, full of soul and deeply-felt conviction. His eclectic six-string was like something out of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame. He immediately drew attention with his intricate finger work. The packed crowd was roaring in the tiny venue… awesome lyrics about farms, liquor, women and solitude… eclectic and unique and worth more than the price of admission.” - Chart Magazine (ChartAttack.com) review of NXNE performance
“Woody Russell's voice is the first thing you notice about Salt. His smooth, emotional tone adds substance to his songs and makes them stick with you. The second thing you notice is the playing. The music is tight, with no wasted notes. This is only his third record, but Salt has the sound of a musician who has invested a lifetime in sharpening his playing. The songs themselves are thoughtful, with a pretty sharp sense of humor. Russell is establishing a reputation as a singer/songwriter to watch, and Salt is a proof point in support of his blossoming career.” - Lance Looper, High-Bias review of Salt
“...skillful at melding modern and vintage seasons into well-produced songs. Russell is supported by a talented band playing lap steel, upright bass and additional vocals. Salt is an eclectic mix of styles and all fourteen tracks are filled with rich imagery. 'Count On Me' is the strong opening track with standout jazzy instrumentation with each discernible as Woody warmly sings his visual lyrics. In comparison, the second song 'Parts and Labor' is witty and has an up-tempo, country flavor. 'Leaving' is slow and sweet with reflective lyrics and stellar, steel leads. Salt is a diverse, bold collection and a good complement to any music collection!” - Laura Turner Lynch, Kweevak.com review of Salt
(Five Stars) "... a true talent to watch out for.” - Editor, International Acoustic Music Awards (inacoustic.com) review of Salt
“Randy Newman meets Tom Waits... I would go as far as to say Mr. Russell could go toe to toe with Newman if it came right down to it. Fourteen songs and not one single one is filler. Oh, and did I mention he’s a hell of a guitar player too. I love his rhythm guitar work. It has a real percussive feel that will have your head bobbin’ up and down like one of those little dogs that people have in their back windshield. This is a really fun album from top to bottom. It’s easy to understand why his Russell’s fanbase is rapidly growing after giving this captivating Texas troubadour a listen.” - J.R. Oliver, EarCandyMag.com review of Salt
“A little taste of Americana, Salt is a poetic string of love and loss. Rooted in Russell's unique, sometimes growling, often soft voice, each track unveils a different sound from the carnival-esque "In the Middle of the Fringe" to the faded blues of "DB Blues". Russell's guitar is sharp, but comfortable with the percussive grooves of Spanish-styled melodies. Warm at its core, the album orbits around the sincerity of the title track which magically accomplishes otherwise campy lines like "She's the roots to my tree/the salt in my sea" with heartfelt honesty. With an ear for craftsmanship, this album successfully captures the roots-folk sound often lost in production.” - Dan Cummings, Hyperactive Magazine review of Salt
“Russell is eclectic yet accessible, and his music leans more toward the rootsy side of Americana than the twangy side. Vocally he sits somewhere between James Taylor and Tom Waits, smooth but with a well-placed growl when necessary. Exploring social consciousness and philosophy as well as hopeless romanticism, Russell’s songs are interesting and catchy at the same time ala Elvis Costello. His guitar playing is solid as well, putting him a notch above other troubadours. The quirky and offbeat “Parts and Labor” is smile-inducing but the best track by far on this collection is the breezy We May Never Know.” - Mike Farley, Bullz-Eye.com review of Salt
“Very tasteful music making.” - John Aielli, host of "Eklektikos" on KUT 90.5 FM, Austin
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