Rusty Reid's music is not easily categorized. It's an alchemy of his influences, which range from pop to rock to country to folk to blues, with even the lilt of show tunes and strains of Dixeland jazz seasoning the mix. It's indie rock, alt-rock, alt-country, country-rock, pop-rock, folk-rock, something-rock. Continuing on today, Rusty has been open to a wide variety of influences, prominently including Hank Williams, Chuck Berry, Jimmie Rodgers, Ferlin Husky, Buddy Holly, Howlin' Wolf, the Everly Brothers, Eddie Cochran, Lightnin' Hopkins, Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley, Marty Robbins, Roy Orbison, Marty Robbins, Bob Dylan, Donovan, Beach Boys, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Roger Miller, Glen Campbell, Marvin Gaye, Van Morrison, the Byrds, the Hollies, Simon and Garfunkle, the Lovin' Spoonful, the Doors, Moby Grape, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Chicago, Eric Clapton, Denim, Gordon Lightfoot, the Band, Jimi Hendrix, Don McLean, B.J. Thomas, Kenny Loggins, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, the Moody Blues, Willie Nelson, Mickey Newbury, Kris Kristofferson, Emitt Rhodes, Dan Fogelberg, J.D. Souther, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Elton John, the Eagles, Tom Petty, the Police, John Mellencamp, Jeff Buckley, Mark Knopfler, Jon Dee Graham, Bob Marley, the Cars, the Clash, the Cult, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, XTC, Split Enz, Crowded House, World Party, ZZ Top, Rockpile, AC/DC, Brian Setzer, Maria McKee, Bruce Springsteen, Tito Larriva, Elvis Costello, Justin Currie, U2, the Indigo Girls, No Doubt, Nirvana, Shawn Mullins, Brandi Carlisle, Paramore, Keith Urban, Tim McGraw, RZA, Shane Fontayne, Akala, Rage Against the Machine, the Foo Fighters, Prophets of Rage, Radiohead and, of course, the Beatles. The link between all of them: distinctive singers, distinctive songs, no clones in the bunch.
Even though he hasn't lived in Texas for decades, he remains a Texas songwriter, but not so much the traditional spinner of wild tales and clever phrases about livin' and lovin' like the poet masters Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark, Townes van Zandt, Nanci Griffith, Jon Dee Graham, Lyle Lovett, Vince Bell, Steve Earle, Joe Ely and a whole lotta others, not as endearingly commercial as Roy Orbison, Don Henley, Buddy Holly, Bob Wills or Willie Nelson and such. He's a Texas guitar player, more than an acoustic strummer, but nowhere in the company of the likes of Robert Johnson, Lightnin' Hopkins, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Billy Gibbons, Eric Johnson, Bill Browder, Rick Poss, Gary Clark Jr. or any of the other numerous, luminous Texas fret-gods. Nevertheless, his playing evokes an original style, tone and catchy arrangement of notes. He's a Texas singer, with a vague similarity, sometimes, to fellow West Texan, Orbison, and other times veering towards the timbre of Elvis Costello or Orbison's Traveling Wilbury bandmate, Tom Petty.
Many acclaimed songwriters place utter confidence in the raw quality of their lyrics integrated with simple melodies and basic instrumentation, sometimes just piano or an old acoustic guitar. This bare-bones approach tends to focus the listener's attention on voice and lyrics. Rusty's aim is usually to fold the vocals and instrumentation into a unique soundscape, which can have the effect of actually diminishing the perceived potency of the lyrics. That may be why Orbison and Gibbons and Henley, master soundscape-crafters, are often left off lists of the best Texas songwriters. Yet probe Rusty's lyrics and there are to be found nuggets of original, profound, poetic thought, and certainly an emotional, philosophical, spiritual journey that is one-of-a-kind. Take all this together, then ask who Rusty sounds like and the answer is: no one.
Rusty's music is largely hand-made, home-made. It may lack the polish of high dollar studio rooms and gear and the careful massaging of engineering, mixing and producing wizards, nor has Rusty ever had the support of a consistent set of bandmates with whom to collaborate, experiment, build and hone a singular style. Yet the songs flow anyway, the voice and guitar orientation recognizable clues amidst the diversity of styles, along with those plaintive melodies matched with heartfelt, personal lyrics even when the topic is universal.
Rusty is a straight-forward writer, his messages succinct and to the point, not abstractly couched. "Playing with words can be endearing and often ecovative, but I've never seen the entire point of writing a song that you, as the writer, don't know what it means," he explains. The themes have evolved over the years, from standard love and place songs to cutting social commentary. Still, in a sense, not that much has changed. His songs have always featured singular melodies, and even the "protest song" thread has been there all along. "Some of my earliest songs were social commentary. Not that I knew much about what I was commenting on at a young age, but I was struggling to make sense of the world and absorbing what I was hearing coming from radio and records. I was, and still am, a child of the 60s. As time went on, a lot of my generation seemed to lose their idealism, optimism, hippie values. Somehow, I didn't. For me, those values just grew stronger."
Rusty's chimey, twangy guitar style also reveals a strong 1960s influence from Orbison (again) and his signature riffs (the classic example being "Pretty Woman"), British pop, surf music, spy flicks and spaghetti westerns. He's the furthest thing from a shredder, relying instead on simple but melodic runs, sustained notes and earthy tones. "I'm always looking for that unique guitar part, a run that seems familiar but is actually unique to the song," Rusty explains. "That is one of the key aspects I loved about 60s music. It seemed like every song had one of those riffs. We seem to have mostly lost that today... not to mention the melodies of that era. Today it's all about the groove and the sexy or boasting lyric, seemingly without much interest in a signature lick or a distinctive melody. I'm pretty happy to be a throwback in that musical regard, as well as in terms of thematic social commentary."
Head to Heart is Rusty's "comeback" release, after over a decade of losing musical energy. As the new songs flowed, beginning in 2015, on to notebooks and thence to the digital audio workstation in his home studio, the emerging album began to assume an identity like few singular collection of songs. This is certainly one of American popular music's most radical, revolutionary albums. Comprised of 17 songs, Head to Heart is at once a dileneation of a profoundly beautiful and deeply spiritual worldview, combined with a frontal assault on those hoary old traditions and institutions that thwart "our best chance to thrive." All told, it is a call for a revolution of spirit.
Click on the album cover image, at right, for images, lyrics and more from Head to Heart.
Rusty conceived NWXSW (Northwest by Southwest, Rusty's personal journey) as a "best-of" sampler of his songs and and various styles. He assumed this could be his one and only album. It includes 14 songs. The recordings date back to Houston and the early 1980s with his band, the Unreasonables, and carry forward through his 11 years in L.A. from 1984-1995, and thence to Seattle area songs from 1995 to 2000. The album track list is arranged in quasi chronological order combined with an attempt to load the poppier songs up front. The album includes one cover song and two new songs (at the time), the last two on the track list, "Where Do We Go From Now" and "Barbarians."
Click on the album cover image, at right, for images, lyrics and more from NWXSW.
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