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Live Review: Jon Russell (The Head And The Heart) – The Surf Lodge, Montauk, NY
About two years ago, I stumbled upon a solo acoustic video of an unreleased Head And The Heart song. Let’s Be Still turned out to be the name of their second album but to this day I enjoy the raw version from Jon’s Seattle gig at Neumo’s more because of its up-tempo feel. One year later another one of these stripped back gems surfaced. In this song Jon sings the phrase “only in dreams” a few times, and not only does it seem fitting as the song title but given the rapid success of a band that formed in late 2009, I wouldn’t be surprised if this song will be the title track of the next album. Only in dreams do die hard fans get to meet their number one idols before the band takes the stage. And only in dreams the frontman of The Head And The Heart plays a solo gig a few hours away, giving me a chance to hear more unreleased magic live and up close. Over the past two years of discovering the imperfect versions of his most recent material, both of those dreams came true.
The show was billed as “Jon And Josiah” but only Jon showed up. Perhaps Josiah was stranded somewhere in the van they rented, since they’ve been camping and travelling writing the next album. In the opening song Jon sang, “Some folks may say, I’m a hermit in my ways and the way I spend my days they can’t depend on me,” which reflects feelings of isolation and guilt during this “writing retreat.” After another new song he began strumming the chords to Lets Be Still as he looked out onto Fort Pond, absorbing the calmness and gaining the still vibes to perform the song. Although he didn’t perform the more upbeat, faster version, hearing it live was one of the most inspiring five minutes of my entire life. Next Jon played a mellow version of another old unreleased song No One To Let You Down, which is usually supported by Josiah’s gorgeous harmonies but it held up as a solo version.
In the middle of Jon’s two sets a good friend from his hometown of Richmond, Virginia Arum Rae played three of her original songs. To say she blew me away was an understatement. This girl can belt and has vocal pipes that sound like they were passed down to her from a soul goddess. The Head And The Heart has led me to many new artists and bands, and this singer/songwriter is one that belongs in the music library of every folk/blues/soul lover.
The rest of the set was filled with fan favorites Another Story, 10,000 Weight In Gold, Down In the Valley, and Lost In My Mind as the set closer. Many new songs made my excitement skyrocket for the third LP but two stood out with flare. The first was a heavy, dark song played on electric with distorted effects. The opening line went something like “how can the world be so empty,” and to lighten the mood after that somber song he joked “every time I play that song I realize I should stop hanging out alone so much. When are you gonna be happy again Jon?” The Head And The Heart definitely dug into a more gloomy, existential theme in the lyrics of the latest batch of songs, and this new Jon song seems to follow in the same path. The opening line of the second song was, “When I wake up in the morning I see nothing for miles and miles and miles,” which was inspired by the flat, mountainous view from the band’s tour bus driving through Dallas, Texas. Showcasing his masterful vocal range from the deep, dark gravely to the raw belting and short moment of falsetto, this one is my favorite of the current batch of possibilities for the new album. Whatever selection makes the final cut will prove The Head And The Heart to be the most exciting act in the indie folk/rock scene. “There she goes. Only in dreams…only in dreams.”
Scott J. Herman