Heather Russell At The Hotel Café
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By Brent Burns
As I excitedly walked down the familiar Hotel Cafe alley on June 25, I had no idea what to expect as I turned toward the venue's tucked away entrance. On a normal night, one would expect groupies, usually of the hipster variety, under a plume of smoke. But last night was different as the showcasing artist was 12-year-old singer/songwriter Heather Russell.
As luck would have it, the front door was unlocked and I was able to make my way in for soundcheck. Russell was glowing onstage alongside GRAMMY-winning producer/songwriter Walter Afanasieff on piano, and I got a privileged sneak peek of "Why," which the pair later performed together during the show.
Moments before Russell's set, I noticed the intimate setting was filled with both recognizable record executives and agents along with an eclectic group of fans. Dressed age-appropriate in a simple navy dress and metallic strappy flats and with her waist-length hair parted down the center, the young singer was giggly and timid, yet confident and completely aware of her position, and thankful for it. Russell's youth and innocence shone through each time she repeated "hope you like it" as she led into a song.
Russell showed unbelievable range with an 11-song set of self-written original songs. I quickly realized she is one of those truly rare individuals gifted with almost supernatural talent, especially considering her age.
Opening with "Remember When," Russell explained that the song was written about "reminiscing about good times, and recognizing moments when everything's great." The maturity of her music and versatile voice was matched by her commentary, which was introspective and insightful, and reflected inspirations largely from her family. Russell also showed her humble personality and selflessness while performing "Crazy Glue," a song she co-wrote that was featured on former "American Idol" contestant Jessica Sanchez's 2013 album Me, You & The Music. Russell sweetly encouraged everyone to "please check it out, Jessica sings it beautifully."
I will admit that I'm guilty of over-streaming her YouTube video of "Made Of Love," a perfect introduction to Russell's music. Performing "Made Of Love" last night, Russell won my heart all over again as she seemed to battle between keeping her hands on the keyboard and raising her arms to wherever her notes uncontrollably led. And she won the fight, like a prima ballerina dancing with the rawest of emotion while not straying from a single step.
"It's doing what you love, and making it out of love. It's pretty straight forward," said Russell as she introduced "Made Of Love," perfectly summarizing her amazingly heartfelt talent. Mark my words: Heather Russell is soon to become a household name.
"Off The Track"
"I'll Be There"
"Made Of Love"
(Brent Burns is the dance/electronica GRAMMY.com Community Blogger.)