Live Review: Steve Earle’s Annual Winter Residency w/ Jonathan Russell – City Winery, NY

If you’re in NYC this January and haven’t hit up Nashville country singer/songwriter Steve Earle’s residency at City Winery, you’re making a very big mistake. Earlier this month Steve tapped Jon Russell (The Head And The Heart) to warm up the crowd with a few songs before Steve’s headlining set.

Jon began the night with a tender version of Another Story, track two from The Head And The Heart’s second album Let’s Be Still. After wowing the crowd with sharp vocal control and masterful dynamics, he then proceeded to perform the title track from that album, which kept the mood intimate while also raising the energy level by changing his rhythmic approach from light fingerpicking to consistent strumming.

No One To Let You Down followed, which slowed and further quieted the mood but still captivated the audience’s attention. Jon moved over to the piano to perform two new songs – Up The Coast and Saving Grace – both of which will hopefully be recorded on their next album. He closed the set with a heartfelt rendition of Your Mother’s Eyes and The Head And The Heart’s first major hit single, Lost In My Mind.

The end of Jon’s set was in a way, the beginning of Steve Earle’s, because without any intermission the headliner came right up after Lost In My Mind and began strumming the opening chords of his song Burnin’ It Down, while Jon stayed on to sing harmonies. The blend of both of their raw rock and roll vocal ranges served as a great combo and one of the most memorable songs from the entire night.

Next up in Steve’s set was his very outspoken and aggressive song F The CC from his 2004 album The Revolution Starts Now. With an upbeat, fast-paced tempo and heavy strumming, this Nashville country-rocker powered through a truly entertaining several minutes of protest song.

Steve’s next song was Devil’s Right Hand from his 1988 album Copperhead Road. Steve’s gritty and raw country-folk style truly engaged the audience and explains his success. Whether it’s the words he sings or the sharp, loud notes banging from his guitar, all musical elements projecting from Steve Earle’s performance come from the deepest part of his heart and soul.

Another highlight of the night was Feel Alright, the title track to his sixth studio album. The trebley-twang of his heavy brass guitar strings kept the audience rocking along in their dinner seats. Steve’s talent for expressing such aggressive, outspoken music in front of an intimate, singer/songwriter acoustic vibe atmosphere shows a tremendous amount of confidence and attitude both of which have shaped the man he is today.

Now before you have to wait ’til the next annual Winter residency, get yourself over to NYC City Winery and enjoy some of the finest country folk songs with Steve and his special guest of the night.

Scott J. Herman