Let Lizabett Russo Be Your Tour Guide Through “The Burning Mountain”
After releasing her critically acclaimed EP The Traveler’s Song in 2013, Lizabett Russo became a traveler herself, touring across the world. Some of her stops included Amsterdam, Zurich, Japan, and even South Korea. Moreover, music from said EP was featured in the highly regarded indie short film Bloodloss. To say Russo’s career has been on fire during the past three years would be an understatement. This April, she has provided a full length album, and the appropriately titled “The Burning Mountain” is quite the follow-up indeed.
If you experienced her debut EP, “The Burning Mountain” is a total change of pace, literally and figuratively. From her style of playing, to her vocal prowess, to the actual tempo of the songs, the album is faster paced. Russo seems to have come out of her shell and is unafraid to use her voice to its full potential. For the readers who haven’t listened, Russo’s voice has the soothing timbre of Fiona Apple with the range of Mariah Carey. Need I say more? I will anyway! While her main instrument remains the acoustic guitar, there are a plethora of unconventional instruments used to set the eclectic range of atmospheres throughout the album.
The first two songs sound like something you’d hear in a movie about the life of King Arthur but with surprisingly intense lyrics. In “Perspective” Russo goes full throttle with her voice and takes the melisma of joik music to a new level. There are drums in the distance as if to call for battle. Meanwhile she sings about how “we all live in a certain degree of loneliness,” although the music is so encapsulating one would miss the striking lyrics without listening closely. Contrastingly, “Governmental Pigs (G-Pigs)” transports us to Mardi Gras for a short moment in its finale with a sassy muted trumpet that she mimics with her tone of voice (something you need to listen to in order to understand, trust me).
“Monsters at Night” transports the listener from a happening, medieval carnival to Carnival in Brazil and previews the Latin-jazzy spin the album takes at this point. Perhaps this is something she picked up during her shows in Barcelona? Either way, there is a rhythmic horn section calling listeners to get up and dance, which is a much needed up note after the two previous songs.
The title track is certainly one that will leave an impression. The 6-minute song starts off with a sultry scat. However, that purest jazz vibe is quickly washed away with the bass being played arco (with a bow) and the vibraphone addition. Russo urges the listener to “abandon ship” and escape with her to nature. The instrumentation sets up an ominous tone for what awaits beyond the promised “mountain”
“Save Me from Myself” also has a very acoustic Latin flare, making you feel as though you’re sitting on a veranda lounging and watching the house band. It is one of the sincerest tracks, focusing primarily on Russo’s basic voice without too many tricks or bells and whistles. Furthermore, this song exemplifies the genius of the arrangement of this album. Two tracks ago I was dying for an upbeat spin and just when I was ready to relax and be serenaded, I’m brought a beach chair and a mimosa.
After “The End” point of “Loving, Unloving Each Other”, the album takes a more mystical turn focusing on Russo’s voice and acoustic guitar accompaniment. It shows that Russo is anything but “Lost” when it comes to how she wants to sound and what she wants to convey with her lyrics; although, in previous tracks those lyrics are sometimes overshadowed by the large variety of instruments and sounds. Track 7 is then followed by a purely atmospheric “We are Still Beautiful People,” which incorporates an Irish jig vibe in the midst of the drone of the ocean, seagulls and a rocking chair (How does this even work?!).
The final track, “Mother’s Song,” adds classical string instruments to the mix to express “the hardship [of raising] a big old baby.” Russo digs deep and uses every layer of her voice to presumably express the great respect she has for what her mother has sacrificed to result in who Russo is as a person and an artist.
Overall, Russo’s sound is deeply rooted in classic joik, medieval sounding folk and Latin-rooted jazz. Her expertise on the acoustic guitar are very evident and used as a tool to accentuate the insane acrobatics she performs with her voice. Seriously, if there was a scatting Olympics, Russo would be a top contender and she’s not afraid to show it on every track. However, it seems that the mood setting takes precedence over making the lyrics audible. The album being highly atmospheric is not necessarily a bad thing, however, it is unfortunate because the lyrics are so great. Needless to say “The Burning Mountain” is an expertly crafted journey through musical styles and Russo has the talent and drive to show you the way.