REVIEW: Russello Project transports Scranton crowd to another world with introspective tunes
It was a cool autumn night in downtown Scranton, and I entered Finnegan’s Irish Rock Club shivering not from the cold, but anticipation. Due to the ever-long pandemic and the trials and tribulations of raising a newborn at the same time, Saturday, Sept. 25 would be my first time attending a live music performance in about two years.
I arrived during the set change for the opening act, the AXmen, students of the main attraction – Charles Russello and his band. Thought I hadn’t had the opportunity to hear them play, the atmosphere inside Finnegan’s was still buzzing, and it only took the ordering or one drink from the bar for the familiar feeling of being at a rock show to return. I actually got the opportunity to chat with members of the Russello Project outside the bar before they hit the stage. Bassist Mike Bosi has the look and the aura of a rock god straight out of “Guitar Hero,” but he is anything but unapproachable, quick to smile and tell a joke. Drummer Bob Kirby thanked us for coming to the show, letting us know we were in for a treat with a set comprising of some old songs as well as a taste of their newest album, titled “11:11.” Inside, lead guitarist Charlie Russello mingled among patrons and prepared for their set.
When the trio finally hit the stage, I marveled at the lighting and overall vibe that Finnegan’s ownership put into their stage. This wasn’t a corner spot on the way to the restroom like some bars in the area. It was a legit, full-fledged stage with mood lighting and everything needed to make you feel transported to a larger venue without losing the intimacy of the close and upfront rock club vibe. Before they began their set, the Clarks Summit-based frontman asked the crowd for a show of hands to indicate who was seeing them perform for the first time. A good majority of the bar’s inhabitants raised their hands, which was a comfort to me, knowing that local musicians were still getting the opportunities to earn new fan bases in these trying times. Not to downplay the hands that did not go up either, as I could see that, for many, this wasn’t their first time coming to listen to and enjoy the progressive instrumental rock group.
After a few opening songs to get our attention, which they surely did, the Russello Project went into their first song from “11:11,” “Starlight.” It carried me to a road along a beach, just driving with the top down and enjoying life. They followed that calming tune with “Sky,” the first track of their new album. This, for me, brought on a more melancholic relaxation than “Starlight,” as if I was remembering a sweet memory from long ago, gone but never forgotten. It was at this point that I just marveled at the fingers of Charlie and Mike as they effortlessly strummed across the chords. I am not musically gifted at any stretch of the imagination, so this wasn’t the first time in the show that I was dumbfounded at how these three men combined their gifts to bring out these dreamy and exciting instrumental tunes.
While I thoroughly enjoyed everything played, the two tracks that stood out to me the most throughout their two sets were “Breathe” and “Fly Away.” “Breathe” was the only song played with vocals, lent by the voice of Charlie’s wife, Sarah. While the trio are not in any need of vocals for you to hear what they are trying to say, the added calling out of Sarah in the background to “breathe in, breathe out” actually reminded me to actually breathe as the six-minute song progressed. Charlie took a moment to let us know that “Fly Away” was a tribute to his late father, and you could really feel that in his play compared to some of the other tracks performed during the two-hour concert.
When all was said and done, I left Finnegan’s with “11:11” already queued up in my Apple Music library, but you can also reach out to the band directly for a copy or go to therusselloproject.com to get yourself a copy. I highly suggest it, and I’m very glad to have spent my night with the group. It’s tougher each day to find an outlet that can take you away from all the terribleness going on in our world right now, but for an hour and six minutes, “11:11” will do just that.
Guest article by Justin Jones, photos by Ken Jones Imagery/NEPA Scene