For someone born in 1970, Luther Russell sure managed to soak up the feel of late â€˜70s rock â€˜nâ€™ roll. If you were there, this album will transport you back to a time when Jimmy Carter was in the White House, and your copy of Twilley Donâ€™t Mind (not to mention the cutout copy of Radio City you managed to score) hadnâ€™t been worn flat. It turns out that rock â€˜nâ€™ roll didnâ€™t die with Tom Petty, even if there are few guitars to be heard on Spotifyâ€™s Top 100. Medium Cool not only conjures the sound – the instruments, melodies, rhythms and production – of late â€˜70s rock, but the mood. Itâ€™s almost as if Joe Walsh continued on from the James Gang instead of eventually joining the Eagles.
Russellâ€™s fealty to the late-70s is on-the-nose with the Roger Christian/Alex Chilton mashup, â€œCorvette Summer,â€ a tune that, in an alternate 1978, would have been the title theme to the like-named Mark Hamill film. â€œHave You Heardâ€ turns a mythical comeback of rock â€˜nâ€™ roll into a clarion call, and all of the albumâ€™s elements are pulled together as â€œThe Sound of Rock â€˜nâ€™ Rollâ€ frees broken hearts to find one another in a misery-eliding drug haze. The acoustic â€œAt Your Feetâ€ suggests an emotionally prostrate version of Big Starâ€™s â€œThirteenâ€ (which Russell has previously performed with Jody Stephens), but here the protagonist literally throws himself at the feet of his objet d’affection.
Thereâ€™s a hint of Joe Jackson in the chorus of â€œCanâ€™t Be Sad,â€ but the verses, powered by rock â€˜nâ€™ roll guitar, bass and drums that reach back past any hint of a new wave. The ringing guitars of â€œTalkin to Myselfâ€ bring to mind the Seattle pop moment just before grunge, and the introspective closer, â€œCanâ€™t Turn Away,â€ doubles down on Russellâ€™s unshakeable loyalty. Over the years Russellâ€™s shifted from Replacements-styled rock with the Bootheels, to Joe Cocker-inspired sounds with the Freewheelers, to folk-pop with Big Starâ€™s Jody Stephens in Those Pretty Wrongs. Elements of each can be heard here, but the trioâ€™s playing is an especially pleasing tonic for ears that came of age in the late â€˜70s. [Â©2019 Hyperbolium]