Album Review: Russ Rankin – “Farewell Catalonia”

I think I may have re-written and revised this review at least six times. I tried to find the best approach for putting my words in the exact right way because I mean… Good Riddance, right? Seriously one of my top five favorite bands, ever, and I’m really fairly certain Russ Rankin was about 80% of what drew me to the band so much in the first place. Something about the way he managed to get out a really wide range of issues in the span of one album was just something I could totally relate to and appreciate time and time again. One song would be focused around strong political or social issues, and the next he’s putting everything out on the table in a very personal way while mapping out his feelings. Always just the right amount of pure angst and emotion.

This approach is something that is very much carried into Rankin’s debut solo album, titled “Farewell Catalonia.” There is some really sincere, catchy and intuitive stuff going on in this album. For as much good as this album does have to offer, it also leaves a bit to be desired.

Over the years, Russ has not been shy about the things he believes in: Political Views, Dietary and lifestyle choices, etc. As with Russ, and many of the other people in my life who have similar views, I’ve noticed a common trend of negativity, and I believe some of that does bleed it’s way into this album. There’s a mixture throughout this album, a kind of formula: politically minded songs driven by opinion and outlook, paired almost one for one with more personal approaches.

The opening track “Pushing Daisies” gets right into the thick of it, a pretty good flagship track to set the mood of songs to come. Making statements such as “You say you’ve traded in the fight, you better tuck your children tight, only a matter of time before there’s no safe place to go” and “It’s like a kind of seduction where truth is never what it seems, living out your fantasies where enemies are friends, I don’t want to disappoint you but this is where it ends.” The lyrics come off a bit vague, but the hooks in this song are among some of the best on the record.

One thing to note here that I found really interesting about this album, is most of the tracks have acoustic guitar paired with a tastefully mixed electric guitar track as well. It’s not something that’s commonly done with some of the solo stuff we’ve been hearing lately from the “punk gone solo project” genre, and it’s done well throughout this release.

From there the album goes to what I thought was a really good track, “Departures.” It’s a nice heartfelt tune and sounds like it may be about a girl, or it could be a relationship of any kind really, either way it’s very raw and it’s a nice listen. “Departures” is a breath of fresh air before the next track, “American Amnesia” starts and we’re shifted again into a theme molded by politics and a healthy dose of cynicism.

Again, another heartfelt song in the track “Points Between,” covering what I would imagine is some pretty personal feelings Russ has towards personal relationships, and some of the ins and outs of being in a touring musical act. The lyrics in this song stood out to me a lot, covering a lot of ground on the whole topic of being in a band that people hold to really high standards. As I replayed this album for the review, I always perked a bit when this track took off. Something about this, I just feel like Russ is bearing a lot of his personal feelings with this one, and there’s something I can really appreciate about that.

The next track “Cold Blues” I really enjoyed, its actually quite beautiful. It sounds as if it’s a song to someone about a hard situation they may be dealing with their father. Focusing on how hard it can be to deal with someone that just won’t come around, but ultimately remembering that family is family, and patience is the right approach, no matter how hard or impossible their stance my seem.

“Flesh and Bone” follows, another political ditty, and after that another personal song titled “I get a room.” After that? A politically driven track called “Indivisible.” I hate to repeat myself here, but I can not state enough the surgical attention that was paid to this list of songs, and the ebb and flow between political / personal, as I said: damn near one for one. All of the closing songs are powerful and driven. If there is a point of contention to be had with this release for me, it’s that things get a bit more formulaic than I really tend to appreciate normally with an album. The political songs have an overall negative feel to them, and most of the tracks are packed full of $10.00 words, and vast metaphors. The personal tracks are straight to the point, the main ideas are much more clearly defined and stated lyrically.

All in all, if you’re a fan of Russ Rankin you’re going to want to make sure you grab yourself a copy of “Farewell Catalonia,” just make sure to temper your expectations a bit. Okay, maybe a lot. There are times when this album is boasting choruses that will be stuck in your head for the better part of a day, and there are parts of this album that (unfortunately) make me feel like I’m sitting in a political activist song circle, and folks are converting their poetry slams into Hymns against “the man.”

Maybe a reason I didn’t fall in love with this album as a whole as much as I hoped I would, is because the bar has been set so very high by similar artists in the same family that we found Russ in the first place. When Tony Sly (R.I.P.) and Joey Cape did their own thing, the first taste we got was them doing acoustic versions of their bands old songs, songs that we’d already fallen in love with through the years. In saying this, I also understand that this is something approach-wise that Russ handles in a different manner than Joey and Tony. There’s merit to be taken for the fact that Russ wanted to release this work on his own terms, as a collection of his original, and current thoughts, feelings and ideas.

Before I close out here, I would like to point out that I didn’t really delve into a lot of technical aspects going on in this album “talent-wise.” That’s because there’s no need to. My opinion of this specific body of work as a collection of songs is just that: An opinion of this collection of songs. Russ Rankin is a seasoned professional, and I would hope that it goes without saying the vocal, instrumental, production and arrangement talent here is top notch. Russ Rankin knows how to make music.

As a full collection of songs this album fell a little bit short for me. I didn’t find a lot of the content as compelling as I normally find Russ’s work, and for as many tracks on here that I really do appreciate and can totally relate to, there’s also some that I just wasn’t really excited about having to listen to again for the sake of this review. As a full-length album this isn’t my favorite. From an editing standpoint, I can’t help but think that maybe some tracks weren’t as strong as others, some that weren’t as polished and concise could have stayed in the oven a bit longer. With a snip here, and a cut there, this could have been a really strong EP.


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