Local musician Erica Russo released her new album, In Between Dreams, over the summer. And at the end of September, she put out a video for the otherworldly track, “Dreams.” The sparse setting and mostly-from-the-back shots of Russo playing guitar and drums with two peddles adds to the song’s spooky feel.
This is a haunted collection, sometimes brushed lightly by gentle specters and sometimes anguished with lost souls. The prettiness of the album is less about aesthetic beauty and more about a delicate delivery that reveals itself — especially on songs like “Limbs” — to be raw and unafraid of rough edges. Russo’s voice is a whisper that tears into a shout, the guitar is rhythmic with cool slices of wavering melody, the percussion the a spare thump — a gritty heartbeat propelling the song forward.
“Barnacle,” drifting and pensive, finds its rhythm mainly in the picking of strings which, though electrified, feel organic and tidal. Russo’s lyrics, though simple — and delivered with spacious phrasing in which her voice is allowed to tremble, grasp and float — are also personal and revealing. “These days I never know, I never know why / These days I never say, I never say hi / These days I’m far too shy,” she sings. There’s no evidence, of course, that Russo is drawing from her own experiences. Her songs could be the emotional storyboards of fictional characters. That works, too — the sentiments still hover between odd and universal.
“Gravel Roads,” boomy as if it was recorded in the bottom of a well, could be a Southern Gothic soundtrack. The refrain, “Now it’s sunshine all the time, and my baby’s on my mind,” is especially eerie up against the minor chords and chugging beat.
Returning to the album’s original theme, “Dream Catcher” — part lulling, part terrifying — has a warm and ambling guitar part over some ghostly background atmospherics. “What happens to the plans that never get seen through, what happens to dreams that die to young to get to?” Russo asks. Her voice breaks savagely on the chorus before returning to a soft rasp. That song, from its simple construction, to its dynamic and chilling performance, to its stuttering end, is a stand out.
The nine-song collection concludes with “Times Like This.” At under two minutes, the song capitalizes on the poignancy of its repeated line. This is flash fiction with a sharpened edge. But it also stays true to the album’s continuum. In Between Dreams, in tone, mood, instrumentation and narrative, is wildly creative but steadfastly consistent. Russo’s strange and wonderful voice stitches those parts into a consummate whole.