Alice Russell To Dust Review

Album. Released 2013.  

BBC Review

Russell deserves to move from cult concern to a queen of British soul.

Adam Kennedy 2013

While post-millennial musical trends seem to increasingly favour celebrating the new over those playing the long game, clearly nobody informed Alice Russell.

To Dust, the British soulstress' fifth solo record in a little under a decade, is the culmination of a slow-blooming development from cult concern into something rather noteworthy.

You're unlikely to hear Russell on a pop crossover hit any time soon, however, judging by her long-held love for exploring experimental avenues.

Since her 2008 album Pot of Gold, she's worked with talents as disparate as Talking Heads leader David Byrne, cutting-edge Connecticut-born beatsmith FaltyDL and globetrotting British multi-instrumentalist/producer Quantic.

And there is always a little something extra going on between the lines here, too. Heartbreaker Pt.2 hints at her convention-defying idiosyncrasies, arriving, curiously, two tracks ahead of single Heartbreaker.

Despite that, To Dust is more ebb and flow than Memento-level backwards journey, its opening run of smouldering slink eventually broken by Hard and Strong. Upping the pitch of her delivery to memorable effect, though Russell doesn't quite break into full-on falsetto, her reserved disco diva guise makes for quite an impact.

Where soul has often become a catch-all for impressive feats of sultry lyrical dexterity that sometimes forget to add much genuine emotion, Russell imbues her sonic palette with a heartfelt honesty that was behind the naming of the genre in the first place.

Admittedly, To Dust doesn't outwardly resemble a record made out of necessity, unbearable heartbreak or tragic despair. That said, there are moments – not least the semi-manic bass-line descents within Let Go (Breakdown) – where you're given a mainline connection into Russell's mindset.

Since the tragic yet seemingly inevitable demise of Amy Winehouse, British soul has been missing a star. Adele's kitchen sink realism approach to the genre has proved a populist round peg in a square hole in that regard.

When To Dust takes flight, you don't have to squint your ears too far to imagine Alice Russell as a worthy successor to that notional throne. Even if you suspect her leftfield-leaning tendencies might ultimately put paid to the possibility.

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