Nicole Russo
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Nicole Russo

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The best kept secret in music



If I had one bit of advice for Nicole Russo, it would be to toot her own horn more forthrightly. Between the promotional copy prepared by the admittedly top-notch promoter Jerry Lembo and her own reflections on her artistic progress, there’s a tone of understatement, as if her team didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag before the listener heard the music. When you do hear the music, your reaction is along the lines of “I had no idea!”

She’s presented as a singer/songwriter typical of the genre. The usual influences are cited, as are her decisions about her singing and which instrument to focus on. (And that’s a bit curious; her bio says she pretty much switched from piano to guitar, and her photographs depict her as a guitarist. However, on her new album she’s the pianist and the guitar parts are handled by Brian Fechino.) By the time one is a few bars into any of the songs on this self-titled outing, however, it’s clear she’s blazing her own trail and doing so in a superbly musical way.

Apparently she’s an east-coaster. (That’s another thing about the promo-kit copy and the liner notes; I could use more detail. Where is this Briggs Brothers Studio?) Two of the musicians on the record, Fechino and drummer Chris Williams, are from the Virginia-based Pat McGee Band. Her bio does say she’s been living in Boston for a while. She relates this self-effacing little story about singing with the house band on a cruise ship as a kid and later giving up an unsatisfying day job (apparently in New York) and meeting “many wonderful musicians” who got her “on the path she’s on now.”

Well, it’s quite a path. I didn’t expect the dense layers of guitar, the anthem-like chord changes or the highly professional sense of song structure. There is an identifiable Nicole Russo sound, and it involves these elements as well as bedrock conviction.

The ethereal harmonies that introduce the first cut, “Difficult” led me to think perhaps I was in for a dreamy auditory experience for the duration of the song, but it’s a sixteen-bar state of suspension that swirls and coalesces into a fiery expression of indignation at an arrogant former lover. The memorable chord changes get going right away, during the first verse, and the refrain pours out full throttle in grand big-rock tradition.

On “No Warning,” Russo demonstrates a mastery of overdubbing her own vocal harmonies. She also employs the genuine passion in her voice to create a readily identifiable lick during the refrain. It’s another of those touches that make this music unmistakably Russo’s own.

“This Time” starts with an intriguingly engineered percussion figure, like someone banging on shoeboxes in a closet. This quickly segues into a masterful slide guitar line by Fechino. Russo’s spare piano chords provide an effective aural foundation for the many guitar parts layered over it.

“Move On” features more great Russo self-harmonies. She’s strong and clear on both vocal tracks, sounding as if she means it in both the tonic and the third. On this song, her sense of how to build from a simple beginning to an exquisitely wrought emotional and aural statement is demonstrated to fine effect.

She’s finally let loose to set the musical table on piano on “Brand New.” It’s a nice respite from the fretboard-heavy arrangements that come before. To be sure, there are lots of tasty Brian Fechino slide guitar figures as the tune gets going (as well as those wonderful overdubbed vocals).

Thematically, Russo’s in young-woman-learning-to-be-strong-in-the-complex-world-of-modern-relationships territory. In this, she is working the same turf as many others in her bag, but she does it without once either hardening into bitterness nor getting goopy. The overall orientation is one of an insistence on decency and honesty from a man, no matter whether a union is going to bear long-lasting fruit or not.

After I got through all the cuts on the record and then looked back through her promotional materials, I had my conclusions about this tone of modesty driven home even more. There may have been a time when Nicole Russo tentatively walked onstage at open-mic nights and workshops, hoping someone would resonate with what she was offering musically, but that was clearly a while ago. She is now supremely ready to maneuver in the world of mature artists. Any fans of anybody she cites as an influence would readily go for what she’s putting on disc.
- Barney Quick


In the five tracks of this debut, Nicole Russo proves to be a lady who is going to turn some heads. Her vocal versatility shines from the first notes of the folksy alt rocker “Difficult” to the country tinged blues of “Brand New.” Working with Brian Fechino and Chris Williams from the Pat McGee Band, Nicole’s lovely emotive voice and intense but hooky music interpretations are a harbinger of a bright future, URL: Email: - ??


Nicole Russo Ep:
1) Difficult
2) No Warning
3) This Time
4) Move On
5) Brand New


Feeling a bit camera shy


Nicole Russo’s most recent project is a five song EP with producer/guitarist Brian Fechino and drummer Chris Williams (Both from the Pat McGee Band) that will be available soon. “Working with Brian and Chris was amazing, the way they took my sound and enhanced it. The ideas that popped into their heads and the excitement that came over them was so much fun to watch,” Russo shares.
“I learned that I had so much more inside of me that needed to come out. From my mouth and from my heart, I learned to sing my songs with more emotion,” she explains.

Being honest through her music is something that Russo prides herself on. “Nothing is off limits,” she explains. Her willingness to share her deepest feelings makes fans not only relate to her but also rally around her. “People always feel sympathetic for me ‘cause they listen to the words and say to me, ‘How could he have done that to you?’ Russo says. “I was in a five year relationship that I tried to make work out. I wrote a lot of songs about that experience -- a lot of great songs. The message in my music is about strength – getting angry and getting over it. Each song depicts a lesson learned and I always come out of the end of the song a stronger person.”

Part of being strong is knowing what you want, and Russo is clear on what she hopes her future holds. When asked about her long-term goals, she says simply, “I want to perform music for a living and to be happy.”

Looking back, Russo’s first love was the piano. At nine years old, she began taking lessons and writing songs, but it wasn’t until she was a teenager that her love affair with another instrument – her voice – changed her life forever.

“I was fifteen, and it was on a Royal Caribbean Cruise,” Russo recalls. I sang ‘I’m Your Baby Tonight’ by Whitney Houston. The host actually made fun of me, saying I must have practiced too much in the shower.” Kidding turned to kudos later in the vacation, when a fellow guest complimented Russo on her voice and asked if she was a professional singer. She wasn’t…yet. But all that changed just five years later, when Russo met vocal coach Danny Richard (The Holland Brothers, Nine Inch Nails), with whom she studied for six years.

During that time, Russo focused her attention on writing and performing original tunes. Along with voice lessons, she continued to develop as a pianist and songwriter, inspired by her favorite female piano player, Tori Amos. Russo realized quickly that piano wasn’t conducive to the local coffeehouse setting, and determined to perform her own material as a solo act, she learned how to play guitar and took pleasure in mastering another instrument. Russo credits her favorite female guitar players, Kaki King, known for her percussive, fingerpicking style, and Butterfly Boucher, a multi-instrument master, as inspiring her playing.

Appearing live for the first time as a solo singer/songwriter, Russo was energized by performing her own music in front of a crowd. As a music fan, she already knew how powerful the concert experience could be for artist and audience alike. “I saw Natalie Merchant perform ‘Thank You’ at Lilith Fair,” Russo recalls, “and she actually started to cry during the song. I thought it was so touching. I always get emotional when Sarah McLachlan sings. She’s the artist I’d most like to perform with; she’s like an angel on stage.” That’s not to say that Russo doesn’t know the value of raising a little hell under the hot lights. “I saw the Foo Fighters rockin’ it on stage, and I was like…I gotta rock on stage! The power Dave Grohl had and the energy he got from the crowd was amazing!”

Although her time on stage was satisfying, Russo’s life away from the spotlight was not, and she decided to make a change. “I was not happy living at home with my mom, sister and brother. I was not happy with my job, I just got out of a 5 year relationship and felt lost,” she remembers. “I met a Boston band in New York City at an open mic night, and they invited me to see a show in Boston. I went to visit, fell in love, and moved 5 months later.” In her new hometown, Russo met many wonderful musicians she credits with leading her on the path she’s on now.