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Shake Russell
©2013 Giotrope Musicworks
Review by Lucky Boyd


John Moss’ production of The Shake Russell Trio, Directed by Bruce Bryant, and edited by Bill Moore, featuring Michael Hearne, with a special guest appearance by Stephanie Sharp Hickman, is the crown jewel of Texas music projects for 2013.  This DVD of a performance recorded at Cypress Creek Christian Church and Community Center and its accompanying audio CD of the show are a one-two punch long overdue for Shake Russell.  In the otherwise acoustically perfect Cypress Creek Church, Moss and his production crew capture one of the most riveting performances in years.  Russell is second from the left throughout the concert, with Mike Roberts to his right, Michael Hearne to his left, and Doug Floyd to Hearne’s left.  Filmed in three-camera format, and expertly edited by Moore, this is high quality concert footage.  The filming lets viewers experience the show in a seat better than any in the house, with perfectly positioned framing and close-ups.  The sound captured for the production is flawless, surpassing even an in-person live performance, as all distractions are missing, and viewers are fully immersed in the experience.  The Shake Russell Trio already offers some outstanding harmony work in their shows, but with the addition of 2012 Texas Music Awards Singer/Songwriter of the Year, Michael Hearne, the harmonies expand, become deeper, and offer a performance rarely seen, as these four are an infrequent configuration.  Russell’s voice is seasoned and as true as ever, offering that familiar comfort that his fans have come to expect over the years.  The banter between Russell and Hearne is priceless, delivering their undeniable brand of soft humor and their stories preceding the songs.  This connection with the audience makes them approachable and inviting, giving the feel of a few friends sitting around the living room singing time-honored retorts to life’s every turn.  Roberts and Floyd are in the groove for the whole show with Russell and with songs fronted by Hearne as well.  Russell opens with ‘Places In Texas,’ a co-write with long-time penning partner, Charles John Quarto.  The crowd is appreciative, yet markedly reserved, hanging on every phrase of the show.  Russell follows with ‘Travelin’ Texas, ‘ his famed offering penned for the Texas Sesquicentennial, and this reviewer’s favorite of all Shake’s songs.  Hearne leads his TMA Song of the Year nomination, ‘Evergreen,’ a co-write with Monica Smart and Grammy-winner Susan Gibson.  Gibson’s recording of the song on her 2011 TIGHTROPE album garnered the nomination for Hearne, and pitted Hearne and Gibson for the Singer/Songwriter Title in 2012, which was received by Hearne.  The magic continues for an astonishing list of seventeen concert performances, including favorites like ‘You’ve Got A Lover,’ ‘The Girl Just Loves To Dance,’ and of course, ‘Deep In The West.’  Mike Roberts is flawless on the upright bass, albeit an electronic one, and his harmony work is outstanding.  Doug Floyd offers his best performance in years on mandolin.  I’ve seen the trio perform live many times, but I’ve never heard them as tight as they are on this recording.  Kudos to John Moss for the perfect capture.  Moss also appears on guitar along with pianist Stephanie Sharp Hickman.  Even with six musicians on stage, the sound is masterful, almost ethereal.  The performance rises emotion in the viewer like no video of Shake since he performed ‘Coming Home’ with Dana Cooper and John Vandiver.  Being a fan of good concert footage, this reviewer would equate this production with some of the best acoustic concerts ever produced.  The group rounds out this history-making performance with a song written by famed songwriter Paul Williams’ brother, Grammy and Academy Award winter Mentor Williams and originally performed by Dobie Gray in 1973.  The rendition of ‘Drift Away’ has the audience involved, swaying hands, and singing along.  There are bonus songs on the DVD of the group performing acoustically in the green room prior to the show.  The bonus version of ‘Ruby’ is worth the price of the entire project.  The CD shadows the DVD so you can sing along in the car without taking your eyes off the road.  Every member of the team that put this project together delivered their best work, making LIVE AT THE CENTRUM a release that will live on through the ages.  At minimum, fifty years from now, Texas performers will be trying to emulate this outstanding masterpiece.

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Shake Russell