Alma Vieja by Russ Hewitt reviewed by Chris Mann


In 2009, I wrote about guitarist/composer Russ Hewitt’s first album ‘Bajo el Sol’ and I think it was clear how excited I was by it.

I’m happy to have the follow-up ‘Alma Vieja’ on my desk right now so let’s give this a serious listen now…

If the sexy bounce of the opening song ‘Pelourinho’ doesn’t make you sway right away, then you’re a lost cause. It has elements of calypso, African music and spicy hints of gypsy music running through it. In fact, look up Pelourhino on Wikipedia to see just how many cultural references are drawn together here. The elegant production showcases Hewitt’s pretty acoustic tone gorgeously. And when I say ‘pretty’, well see what I mean on ‘¡Samba Samba!’. This song will wash over you, as it does over me, time after time…

‘Smooth Jazz’ DJs should be picking up straight away on the radio-friendly and catchy ‘Pacific Sunrise’. Guest saxophonist Michael Lington will be familiar to many readers and his mellow alto blends well with the organ and acoustic guitar here – it takes centre stage and the solid rhythm section conspires to make this a song that should be on everyone’s playlist. I love Bob Parr’s winding bassline on the sinewy ‘Dhanyavad’. Since I’m on a Wikipedia mission, the word means ‘heartfelt thanks’ in Hindi. Normally, I’m not a lover of violin but here Charlie Bisharat uses it perfectly. There is a passion that, I concede, only violin truly conveys.

‘Gabriela mi Corazon’ is a moody tango and – here I go again – this would be perfect for a movie soundtrack, with some lovely minor chords and an unexpectedly mechanical-sounding drum track. This and some subtle string sounds create something cinematic and haunting. Play often and be drawn in. Fans of the cha-cha-cha, get your dancing shoes on for ‘Miss Mimi’ which struts cheekily and must be a crowd-pleaser live. I’m smiling now, picturing myself in the crowd and looking round at the nodding heads. Radio guys, get behind this one too!

There are some moments on this album where Hewitt is clearly trying to expand his audience and ‘Moonlake Drive’ is one of them. Fans of the Gipsy Kings may even feel they’ve heard this before – and that is not to be construed as a criticism! Bob Parr’s bass solo is very sweet, as are those fast runs in Hewitt’s solo. Walfredo Reyes keeps the drum sound nice and tough for this Latin party. The tempo has to drop at some point and ‘Las Cruces’ is slower and more contemplative than the other songs here. Listen closely and you’ll hear the bass doubling the guitar melody. I’m hoping to be driving around Nevada, Utah and Arizona less than two months from writing this and I’d love to have this song in the car for the desert driving.

Turn the heat back up for the lovely ‘Gypsy’. I think I once heard a hip-hop artist describe some music as “flowing like water”. What a great description for this song – it has all the elements you’d expect, no unnecessary adornment. The warm acoustic bass sound and Rafael Padilla’s gentle percussion on the utterly gorgeous ‘Tango for Ahn’ wrap themselves around the honey tones of that guitar and create something magical. There are a couple of nice production tricks that I enjoy and that remind me tango is a living, evolving music. Come down gently with the complex ‘Soldade’. The mood and time signature shifts more than it does on other songs. The word means ‘longing’ and as it expresses a mass of thoughts and feelings, a song about it has to work to engage you – and it does engage you by the end.

OK, so I’ve been a bit of a smarty-pants here with my Wikipedia stuff, but I’m hoping to make it clear that this modern, appealing music still speaks about tradition – honours that tradition. How a musician this young knows all this and conveys it so skilfully, supported by a stellar band, is something I still can’t quite get my head around. He really must have an ‘old soul’. Amazing!



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Saulito Music Producer – Bob Parr