Sam Russo - Back to the Party (Cover Artwork)

Sam Russo

Back to the Party (2020)

Red Scare

After five long years, Sam Russo has returned with another stellar album, one that many fans will see as his best one yet. On Back to the Party, he continues to toe the line between punk and pop, between somber and rowdy, between happy and sad, between fear and hope.

While the album is generally acoustic, it doesn’t necessarily feel that way. And that’s why it’s so good. This is partially due to the expansion of instrumentation. But it is primarily because of Russo’s writing and playing style. He tends to use the guitar, not only as a stringed instrument, but as a percussion instrument as well. The first track, “Purple Snow” demonstrates this, starting with low, ominous strings, before arriving at the pounding, rowdy parts. “Young Heroes” is another good example of this. The verse features a delicate picking style, which ultimately leads to unrestrained strumming and a boisterous chorus.

And while the album exudes a whole lot of energy because of this, that energy is mainly evoked from the various dynamic changes which highlight and enhance Russo’s vocal ability. My favorite moments on this album are songs like “Darkness”, “Anne”, and “Tears”. All three tracks accentuate his knack for singing in a low, soft register that somehow radiates an excessive amount of power. As a result, some of the songs are incredibly sad, but also extremely beautiful. But it also amplifies the louder moments, offering an array of sounds that blend perfectly. Songs like “The Window”, “Always Lost” and “The Basement” are good examples of this, with catchy melodies that accent his wavering vocals, crackling with emotion.

This album is a record of contradictions. And that’s what makes it great. There’s evidence of this in lyrics like, “I need a long rest, so I can dream the way I used to...I don’t think i could ever sleep again” (“Young Heroes”) and “I was alone in a city of memories” (“Anne”). There are numerous other examples of this. At times, the stories are so simple and straightforward. Other times, the topics are complicated, but somehow vivid. And it almost seems as if he writes punk songs that were never intended to be played on an acoustic guitar. But then at the 11th hour, he decides to record the whole album acoustically. This obviously isn’t true, but that’s how it feels. It’s an acoustic record that feels punk. It’s a sad album that feels beautiful. It's a soft record that feels loud. The lyrics are full of fear, but offer hope. And that’s the beauty of it all.