By Chad Ingram
Virtuosic Haliburton Highlands guitarist Nick Russell is dropping a new album March 1.
Entitled ARCHTOP, the album takes its name from the 1949 Gibson L-7 guitar Russell used throughout its recording. Archtop guitars mimic the body architecture of symphonic instruments such as violins or cellos, and as Russell explains, were pioneered by acoustic engineer Loyd Loar for the Gibson Guitar Corporation in the 1920s.
“The guitar itself came to me via a guitar student of mine,” Russell told the Times in an email. “My student purchased the restored instrument from Folkway Music in Waterloo. I imagine an instrument that’s over 70 years old has a bit of a story. For me, the story starts when I realized my particular playing style seems to suit this type of instrument; archtop guitars have a fast attack, not many overtones, and can be extremely expressive when played the right way. Having acquired this guitar from my student a few years back, it’s been my go-to acoustic guitar since.”
Russell explains the L-7 was considered a “working man’s guitar,” a dressed-down version of the more grandiose Gibson L-5. “These types of guitars were made famous by players like Eddie Lang in the 1920s and became the Cadillac of American acoustic jazz guitars up until the advent of electricity,” he wrote. “Gibson did then electrify the L-5, but it meant an altogether different sound.”
The songs on the album are a mixture of Russell’s arrangements of jazz standards, traditional music, some solo guitar pieces, and even a Hank Williams tune.
A promotional video for the album shows Russell playing his arrangement of “You Are My Sunshine,” which seems to have a lilting, soothing effect to it.
“I am not sure why it’s soothing – some of the chords I use are a bit strange and unnerving!” Russell wrote of the songs on the album. “That being said, I do play rubato (the musical word for playing without any time or beat) a fair amount on this record. It’s a spacious sound that a lot of people are not immediately used to and is known to put people to sleep. This is why I include the weird chords – to wake people back up!”
On five of the album’s 10 tracks, Russell is joined by friend Robert Lee on upright bass. “He’s a fine upright bassist currently doing his Master’s at Berklee College in Valencia, Spain,” Russell wrote. “We’ve done numerous gigs together and I knew he’d be a good fit for this collection.”
(More information on Lee can be found at robertleebass.com)
Russell owns and operates Haliburton Guitar Studio, which provides lessons, recording, and other music industry services. Like many business owners, his usual course of events has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and he took the mandated closure of the in-person aspects of his business as a chance to record ARCHTOP.
“Having two young kids and running a business can be very entropic,” he wrote. “I usually do not have time to devote to recording the arrangements and ideas that come up from time to time. My teaching practice in Haliburton (and internationally over Zoom) is also quite busy. I saw the forced closure of my business as an opportunity to create this album. I am very fortunate to have a very supportive partner (my wife, Stephanie) and there were numerous days over the lockdown where I would head into the studio for the day for the sole purpose of working on this music.”
ARCHTOP will be available for purchase March 1 on Russell’s website nicholasrussell.ca and is the preferred method of purchasing the album. The album will also be available on streaming service Bandcamp on March 1, and other streaming services as of April 1. Russell is also producing physical CDs which will be available in April. Internationally, those CDs will be available for purchase through Bandcamp, while county residents can simply email Russell at haliburtonguitarstudio.ca and arrange to pick up a copy at the studio, located in Haliburton Village.