“There’s no love like those younger days; we feel the echoes still today.” (Title track) “Love whispers into our ears that anything is possible.” Dan Russell 1-30-17
The fiery, comet-like passions of early years flash brightly across adolescence, rarely penetrating as brightly into older age. But, persevering even through the longest and strangest trips, the echoes of that devotion can be felt till the end. Available and poignant still to those who care, the embers of love and art remain tangible and accessible.
Dan Russell: the artist manager and advocate, concert promoter, producer, creative collaborator, video and film music supervisor; has helped launch a thousand ships (well, maybe just a few hundred!) throughout his lengthy resume. As the critical aide-de-camp to dozens of aspiring artists and proven superheroes, it seems he’s always been in demand through a voluminous 35-year professional career. Is it because he sensed the needs of his ‘client’ and ‘the project’ with such zeal and focus that his friendship and trust inevitably elevated what could have been a mere business liaison? Russell’s reputation in music circles is one of a man willing to stand unwavering in the gap.
That commitment led to decades of work with the Call and it’s lead singer Michael Been, Mark Heard, U2, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Sam Phillips, Andy Pratt, Bruce Cockburn, Switchfoot, Robin Lane, The Vigilantes of Love, Ramona Silver, Rachel Taylor, The Violet Burning and more. In 1998 Russell co- founded Soulfest, the first New England social justice music festival which has become an annual event attended by many thousands.
However, in “those younger days,” he wasn’t a ‘business dude’ at all. After high school, as a singer and guitarist, Russell’s great pastime became songwriting. “It was just a cathartic exercise. I’d get together with friends and we would share our songs. We had a desire to convey our thoughts to music and it was fun.” But over time, his solo voice submerged, supplanted by writing collaborations, productions, or projects that came his way. “I would befriend or get close to artists. They’d say something like, ‘Hey, I just recorded a record for a label; do you know how I can get a band?’ So, I’d push my stuff aside and work on their projects.”
But, the desire to return to that earlier role, writing and performing his own work, never abandoned Russell. The ‘echoes’ kept dragging him back until finally, Russell deemed one important collaboration or promised business commitment to be the last one. Then, with official duties forestalled, the guitars came out of their cases and studio time was booked to record a series of his personal songs, the cryings of his own heart.
Working with a small band including his son Jesse, producer and guitarist Michael J. Pritzl, plus Rachel Taylor and Ramona Silver on backing vocals; Russell approached the sessions for his first solo album, Feel the Echoes, as a rare gift of time given to himself. “Life is a sacred adventure, a journey, and it was my time to do this,” he relates. “People who are sixty have, like, 12 records out; I’ve got one! We’ll give you the senior discount for the duration!”
Kidding aside, the songs on Feel the Echoes are expressions of Russell’s deepest heart and experiences. “If you’re only looking at what’s trending now and writing a song from that, it’s just exploitive. I’d be lying,” he explains. “The authenticity comes from the fact that it’s me; but you and I are not so far from each other. It’s autobiographical and reflects a journey that did not start a minute ago. My ego won’t support a hoax.”
Are these songs all about love? “They’re testing love. ‘You Came from Somewhere’ speaks of an experience I had. I went far away just to give into temptation so I could see if love was alive. I was looking for a voice within me that I could trust; everything else was just compliments or lies…spies… The cynicism and hopelessness that emerged within me brought me back to a place of believing.”
The last verse of “You Rescued Me” is “Everyone a refugee, looking for recovery.” It essentially unifies us all – we are all refugees, until we come home. The bridge part of that song is, “If I have anything at all in this world, it’s your love that rescues me.” It’s not my status, my properties, even my legacy. It’s just love that breaks the chains in my life and it broke the chains that I ultimately put back on myself.”
There’s a political nod with “Before the Guns,” originally inspired by George Bush Sr.’s walk into Iraq, but renewed, sadly, on a daily basis. “It’s probably a naïve reaction to guns; we need to fight for love and not to blame. War, in of itself, is a short-sighted, evil, way to communicate with people.”
Naïve is seen through the cynical viewpoint of a worldly contemporary of Christ. “A holy man, from this guy’s perspective, was pretty naïve.” Russell takes on the character’s skeptical voice: “He likes to eat with the hungry, he’s got some sort of secret plan, he looks at the corruption and poverty without fear. He comes into town bringing peace and love, and the unwavering knowledge that love prevails. In spite of all this, with the current climate, the intrigued sceptic struggles to believe.”
“Listening to these songs, I hope people will say, ‘That’s what I was thinking about!’ That’s what a book or a record can do: bring a voice to what people are trying to articulate.”
The completion and release of this album leads to a desire to take the songs to the people – in clubs, coffeehouses, music stores, Starbucks, Tuesday nights in front of three patrons to turning heads at festivals in front of thousands. As he said, “It’s a sacred adventure, a journey.” Dan Russell has launched his own ship now; he’s prepared to go wherever it takes him.
~Carter Alan, 2017