Shawna Russell - Goddess

With her current single "Should've Been Born With Wheels" rising up the charts, Oklahoma's Shawna Russell has released "Goddess."  While it's rocking, the album has a lot of roots in country. Do these roots stand out?

For those with long pop music memories, Russell’s cover of Firefall’s “Strange Way” will likely be the track on this album that stands out most of all. Over a slightly dance-y beat, the song’s words have an overtly haunting quality. They tell the story of a lover who adores his mate, yet he is – at the same time -- constantly in a state of deep sorrow. Oddly enough, Russell’s vocal never lends itself to any kind of empathy for this sorrowful one. Furthermore, the song never even explains why this partner is always so sad in the first place. I never “got” the meaning of this song when Firefall had the Top-40 hit with it back in the ‘70s, and I still don’t get it now.

Russell is quick to name-drop evidence of her country roots, particularly on the closing track, “Little Dixie”, a song about a cowboy club that also acts as a generalized metaphor for the South. But musically, Russell appears to be far more enamored with becoming a strutting soul singer or a blues mamma. A track called “Don’t Put Yourself Out”, for instance, features a pumping R&B groove, which is accented by a full brass section and churchy organ. It brings that great John Hiatt song, “Memphis In The Meantime”, immediately to mind. In it, Hiatt – who has made good money writing country hits – longs for the funkier sounds of Memphis, which offer a welcome break from all the white bread sounds of Nashville. Music City sounds are fueled by steel guitar and the like, which can get old after a while. However, in Russell’s case, it appears as though she found her way to Memphis and just stayed there.

Nevertheless, one song that clearly deserves to be a country hit is “Shed a Tear”, which tells the story about a National Guard death. Over a gentle guitar rhythm, this track’s chorus doesn’t try to sell military service like some clichéd beer commercial the way many other lesser quality patriotic tunes try to do. Rather, its description of shed tears over a lost one says it all. When you see somebody crying at funeral, the last thing that person ever wants to do is detail their pain for you. Similarly, a song about tears for the departed offers a simple story; one everybody can understand.

Although "Goddess" is technically not country a music CD, most of what passes for country on the radio isn’t truly country either. But whatever you want to call her style, there’s no denying the power in Russell’s vocals. And who knows, perhaps her natural soulfulness has the power to heal goddess-like, after all.