Rusty Belle Not Steely Enough for Me

Common Courtesy
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Confession time. I want to love Rusty Belle. Really. They’re local. I hear flashes of promise. Occasionally they lay down catchy riffs. The harmonies are sweet. Chris Smither likes them. I want to love them. I don’t. I listen to two or three tracks and need to find something else to do. When a tune named “I’m Alive” makes you check your own pulse to make sure something in the room is animated, that’s not a good sign.

Common Courtesy opens with “Sad Little Boys” and it’s emblematic of most of the CD’s ten tracks. It has a little shuffle based on repeated notes that finds a groove and stays in it. The title aside, it feels more like an old man making his way down the sidewalk on a hot, humid day and trying not to sweat. Another tune, “Anything,” begs to be torchy, but never sparks a flame; “When We Were Older” takes us on a 6:13 journey that’s like a caterpillar’s meander. I found a few things I liked–the dangerous-sounding “Devil In Your Smile” is memorable, and “Light at the End of the Tunnel” is an intriguing rockabilly/gospel mash. Even these, however, could benefit from better studio engineering as the vocals bleed into fuzzed out instrumentation in ways that create a unified sound, but do little to highlight the lyrics. (And don’t look to two-point, single-spaced, no-breaks liner notes for help!)

Rusty Belle began life as an offbeat folk trio, morphed into glam-rock, and then turned to pop. They now fancy themselves a rock band, though they really fall into an emerging genre that’s faintly bluegrass, kind of country, and very atmospheric. I want to love them. But if I’m honest, I see Rusty Belle as a trio with unrealized potential and no clear identity. When I want torrid, they give me torpor; when it feels like it’s time to rock, they mellow out.

As always, though, I appreciate that music strikes people in different ways. You might want to check them out for yourself. There’s an entire concert on YouTube, so if you like what you hear, Vermonters can see them in Burlington Radio Bean) on September 27 or Ludlow (Town Hall) on October 12. Those in my area can catch them in Northampton, MA (Parlor Room) on September 28. Feel free to tell me I’m nuts.

Rob Weir

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