Luther Russell – Medium Cool (review)

Luther Russell - Medium Cool

Luther Russell – Medium Cool (Fluff & Gravy)

Rock n’ roll done just right

Everywhere you go, music seems to have a label on it. Yep, categorize it, create a new sub genre, and market it, right? Problem is, we forget where all of this came from – rock n’ roll. Thankfully, there’s people like Luther Russell who still know how to deliver the goods – no bullshit, no agenda, no Auto Tune, just guys capturing a spirit. That’s what his latest long-player, Medium Cool, is all about.

Russell is not a household name, but he’s kept some good company over the years. He and Jakob Dylan were bandmates before the Wallflowers, he teamed with guys from the Black Crowes in another underrated group, and he frequently collaborates with Big Star drummer Jody Stephens. He’s released a string of albums that have explored many different styles, yet never straying too far from straight-ahead rock. We talked with him in 2018 about his 2-disc anthology called Selective Memories

While his more recent releases have been heavily-produced affairs, Medium Cool is more stripped down, you can hear the sound of the amps echoing off the walls. And the title of the album is perfect for the music that lurks inside – not over-polished or heavily-distorted – but Medium Cool…indeed.

The album opens with the mid-tempo rocker “Deep Feelings.” The groove, guitar licks and heavy drumming capture the spirit of Big Star’s “O My Soul” without directly copying anything. “Can’t Be Sad” features churning verses that morph into a great chiming chorus that reminds me of Elvis Costello’s early work. There’s also a nice, long jam at the end of the song.

Russell has a gift for painting these pictures of fractured individuals, like the girl who’s drawn toward “The Sound of Rock n’ Roll,” with lyrics like: “she’s all torn apart / cause the drummer broke her heart.” This one features some great harmonies too.

The real standout here is “Corvette Summer” – a track that could be mistaken for a lost hit song from 1978, blaring out the single speaker on the dash of your car radio (or 8-track player). It’s fueled by an absolutely killer riff that reminds you of something, but you can’t put your finger on it, and features some damn good soloing in the middle. Fully in the moment, we hear him shout “dammit” at the end.

Taking a break from the rock for something gentle, we get “At Your Feet,” a poignant number played on the 12-string.

“Have You Heard” kicks off “side two,” name checking cities like Brooklyn, San Francisco and Milwaukee. It’s a cross between the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner” and Martha & the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street.” “Sad Lady” features cowbell and some fine chord changes surrounding a driving rhythm. Russell turns in a somewhat fuck-it-all vocal performance on “Talking to Myself,” which is too bad, because it’s probably the best song on the album; plenty of jangly chords here. Closing off the record is another 12-string number, “Can’t Turn Away.”

What sets Luther Russell apart from a seemingly endless array of indie artists, is that he’s genuinely a rock n’ roll dude – not a college alternative guy with a beard posing as a rocker. All this comes through in his new record, Medium Cool. —Tony Peters