There’s some music that simply sits in a certain place, the kind of material that screams out to be used for a particular purpose. With Russell Lee’s tunes, that purpose firmly falls in the ‘road trip’ camp. Country tinged rock has always done that for me, bringing up all kinds of imagery pertaining to those long drives that usually go on through the night. It doesn’t matter what the purpose of the journey might be, that is the beauty of the way in which country tends to be so adaptable. There is always that curious balance of positivity blended in with a wistful melancholy.
Opening track ‘Picture’ sets that scene well, laced with a sense of hope while at the same time having a sense of longing running through the song in the background. This is all the more accented by Lee’s vocals, which have a warmth and friendliness to them that draw in the listener to engage with the story he has to tell. Moving on to ‘Piece Of This Earth’, there is more of that recognisable whimsy which is brought to the forefront by the addition of a drawling harmonica and lyrics that draw on the rawness and reality of the human condition; “Everybody’s got a piece of this earth / Everybody’s got a heart and soul / Everybody needs to do their part right now.”
Title track ‘What Do I Do’ turns things up a notch with a swirling organ and a slightly faster pace that invites some toe tapping and maybe even a little head nodding, while ‘Never Know Your Name’ takes a sidestep into campfire acoustic territory, with a growling electric guitar part that adds a touch of gritty emotion.
The road trip feel is maintained throughout the album – just take a moment with the pure country swing of ‘High and Low’, that has shades of early R.E.M. mixed in with its bluesy sounds, while ‘Heartache’ rattles along at a pace that will make anyone feel as though they are making some real headway as they keep holding on behind the steering wheel. There is no doubt that after a few spins of What Do I Do, many will find themselves singing along to the record shamelessly, letting the uplifting tunes enter their soul and take them into that happy place that feel good tunes only can.
The real beauty of the album is found in the way in which the songs manage to have such a strong consistency throughout, while at the same time offering such diverse arrangements. ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ pulls things right back with soaring strings that sit beneath Russell Lee’s voice and create a warm bed for his thoughtful lyrics to gently dance over.
The real moment of clarity comes on Lee’s own unique rendition of the classic ‘Amazing Grace’. Rather than trying to be clever or gimmicky, Lee simply lets the hymn speak for itself, and as a result it becomes an anthem that is not only a sensitive version but also an ideal showcase for his own particular sound. One for the road, for sure, but also an album that makes for some enjoyable listening in the comfort of your own home.