Randi Russo
Fragile Animal
Hidden Target Recordings/Olive Juice Music
Released 29 March 2011

Long before Fragile Animal, Randi Russo released her second album, her first that wasn’t a CDR, the that one she decided to have mastered (Solar Bipolar), unlike most of the Antifolk class at the time.   Her first release was completely lo-fi, un-mastered, brilliant, and flawed in it’s own way.  This second album had been given the professional treatment.   She handed it to me, hesitant about the way it had been finished, but what an incredible difference the mastering had made.  Since then, we have stopped concentrating on the production values and focused on the more important lyrics and melodies, painful, heartfelt, and visceral.

Once upon a time, Paul Magna, Fragile Animal’s producer, promised that this next album of Russo’s would be something special.   Each of Russo’s previous efforts seemed to perpetuate this quiet, shy, introspective creativity that complements her melodies nicely. Fragile Animal, however, represents a new creative arc for Russo, one that has shot into an entirely different direction that includes the requisite introspection and personal observations, but she has also eliminated the quiet shyness of her previous efforts.  The lyrics retain some of that introspective brilliance but also seem more declarative while the melodies have become more fleshed out, braver, more adventurous as a result.

Listen to the whole album with speakers and listen again with headphones.  The subtleties of each track might be lost otherwise, and the whole album is worth returning to with fresh ears, a fresh perspective, and a fresh mind. “Get Me Over” opens the album, building quietly as it soars into a melody of modest but confident musical art, pulling you closer and deeper.  With mainstream music, lyrics and melody are generally compromised in favour of the Hit Machine.  The creative output from local and unsigned artists is, however, held to a higher standard, especially here.

Lyrically, “Venus On Saturn” is related to the Velvets, but only through a vague association of song titles.  It is more closely related to the “popular” but prejudiced series of books, Men Are From Mars; Women Are From Venus by John Gray.  “Venus On Saturn” is based on the clear and astute observations of Russo, rather than the imaginary and sexist realities of the above popular books.  “Venus On Saturn” is not the most pleasant of characters, but the song is spot on, diving deep into the motivations of a character who relies upon the superficialities of daily life to survive and thrive on the exploitation of others, never mind true happiness.

Fragile Animal even ventures beyond the standard guitar, bass, and drums.  With “Restless Raga” a harmonium and a tabla are incorporated, not the requisite instruments usually employed in folk, rock and Antifolk.  And seldom does a song elicit such an Eastern melodic vibe while the lyrics remain firmly rooted in immediate Western realities.  The Eastern-influenced melody is in not-so-strict counterpoint to the lyrics declaring the personal and romantic age-old dilemma of spiritual growth versus personal happiness in a relationship and what becomes important to both.

Fragile Animal builds layers upon layers, revealing nuances of flavor that promise more and more at each listen.  And though the album does not last forever, being all too short to satisfy her truest and oldest fans, Russo is probably writing more poetry and adjusting the electrical melodies to her ubiquitous upside down red electric for the new tracks of a future and even more ambitious album.

RadioMike , 16 December 2011

P.S. That isn’t all she does, however.   Russo has fine art skills that receive little to no attention from many fans of her music.  Music is an art, yes, but most musicians and most artists’ artistry evolves into more than just one medium. Russo is no different.  Her older art hints at Edward Gorey, but strangely, he is not an influence. Her newer works, currently exhibited in Chicago pending a move to Los Angeles, are more abstract an just as deserving of your attention. Where the music can be sometimes sad, with hope interlaced within, her art hints at wonderfully darker promises to be fulfilled.

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