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Luther Russell | Medium Cool

The L.A. singer-songwriter pays homage to the old-school power-pop of Big Star.

To borrow a line from Craig Finn of The Hold Steady: I’m not old. I’m old-school. (Actually, I’m both. But you get the drift.) I think albums are better than singles. Vinyl is better than CDs. And high-quality downloads are better than streaming audio — hell, pretty much anything shy of sticking knitting needles in your ears beats listening to streaming audio. Unfortunately, I only had access to a private stream of the much-anticipated Medium Cool, the sixth solo album from L.A. singer-songwriter and underground producer Luther Russell. And since I had a slew of dowloaded albums to listen to last week, I quite simply forgot about clicking on some link to hear this one. Sorry about that. I’d apologize personally to Russell, though I doubt he cares. But I suspect he’d understand — he’s clearly an old-school guy too. That’s obvious from his impressive resumé: He’s worked with the likes of Jakob Dylan, Weezer and Robyn Hitchcock, and is currently one-half of Those Pretty Wrongs with Big Star drummer Jody Stephens. That last credit, not surprisingly, is the one that comes through loudest and clearest on the magnificent and misleadingly titled Medium Cool, which is actually a completely cool and totally essential disc that pays loving homage to the classic ’70s power-pop of Alex Chilton. Granted, that’s a recipe that’s been imitated countless times. But it’s seldom been duplicated as authentically and expertly as it is on this 10-song set. All the key ingredients are here: The clanging power-pop guitar riffs and jangly, ringing arpeggios. The laid-back grooves and loose-limbed drums spiced with plenty of tom-tom files and plonking cowbells. The unvarnished, soulfully raspy vocals and stacks of sweet harmonies. And most importantly, lyrics that romantically and unabashedly preach the holy trinity of cars, girls and rock ’n’ roll. If you were feeling mean-spirited you could call it derivative. But that would be missing the point. Russell isn’t some lazy copycat trying to put one over on anybody. He’s just a guy who probably appreciates albums, vinyl and the simple joy of a perfectly crafted nugget of classic pop-rock. Anyone else who shares that view definitely needs to get acquainted with Medium Cool — preferably while sitting in the back of a car, with the music so loud you can’t tell a thing.

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