Greyhound DreamRed Scare Records
By Cole Faulkner
The punk music community is an interesting one. Labels like Fat Wreck Chords, Epitaph, and Rise Records are all about hard hitting punk rock. Melodic or otherwise, there’s always somewhat of a rough and tumble attitude that tends to dominate the spotlight and bleed into the more popular spotlight. But for those of us in deep enough, we know that’s not necessarily always the case. In fact, most punk label bigwigs seem to have a soft spot for their favourite frontmen picking up a six string and pouring their heart out acoustic style.
Chris McCaughan (aka Sundowner), Dave Hause, and plenty more have made the switch to much fanfare, but few are privileged enough to kick off their careers and really get noticed in this regard. Even Frank Turner had hardcore project Million Dead. One of the few exceptions to the rule, soft spoken English acoustic troubadour Sam Russo, was noticed a few years back by Red Scare Industries bossman Toby Jeg. It’s a little comical when a somewhat crude, pop-punk enthusiast industry expert lets down their guard and embraces the folky, underspoken stylings of Russo alongside a roster of rough and tumble artists. But that’s the beauty of the scene we belong to. Fans and label leaders are more than willing to give a talent like Russo the time of day, and the payout has been more than encouraging.
Russo follows a back to basics approach that at its most includes some handclaps for percussion and vocal accompaniment, and at its simplest places the soloist and his guitar squarely in the spotlight. For his sophomore full length, Greyhound Dreams, Russo embodies all the qualities you’d expect from a singer/songwriter on an adoptive punk label. His soft spoken demeanor comes coated in rustic vocal style that pops and cracks within notes like a well worn record. Simple startups like “Small Town Shoes,” “Dream All You Want” and “Forever West” all keep things simple but manage to settle into different tempos as their tales unfold. Russo performs with a touching bedroom intimacy – he could be playing for one or one hundred.
Sam Russo’s reserved, personable style comes to a headpoint in “Runaways.” The track’s jumpity tempo stems from Russo’s forceful acoustic strumming, made all the more effective from the choral accompaniment of handclaps and soft laced female vocals. As his vocal strain rises with each passing chorus, he captures the pure desire to revisit his best memories as he repeats “I didn’t want it to end, I still go there in my head.” The recurring female vocals break through like a ghost of a memory. As the final minute approaches Russo scales back to reality, shedding the layers of memory that leave him all alone. If you’re shallow enough to judge Greyhound Dreams from any one track, make is “Runaways.” If you’re a little less narrow minded, a next step may find you with the piano additives of “Moving North” and sing along campfire gang vocals of “Nobody’s Fool” and “Western Union.”
Taking the time to get to know Greyhound Dreams is entirely rewarding. Sam Russo speaks volumes in his simplicity, establishing the dusty, rustic and emotional connection demanded by folk-punk enthusiasts. While his honesty and back to basics approach can sometimes feel overly simple during less defined moments, throwing on a pair of headphones and granting Russo your full attention is always rewarding. All in all, Russo remains a shining example of punk’s adoptive acoustic brethren.