It has taken a long time, but rootsy singer/songwriter Russell deCarle is now happy with the respect he is shown as a solo artist. To many, his name will remain inextricably linked to that of Prairie Oyster, as deCarle was the charismatic frontman of that group, one of the most popular and critically acclaimed in Canadian country music history with six Juno Awards to their credit.
That was then (Prairie Oyster disbanded in 2006 ), and now deCarle has released his a third solo album, Alone in this Crowd. "I think people finally realise who I am now," deCarle says.
"For the first while, it was always 'Russell deCarle from Prairie Oyster,' but given that this is my third solo project [after 2010's Under The Big Big Sky, and 2014's covers record, Life from Loud Mouse Studios], people see this is not a vanity project I'm doing."
FYI chatted with the amiable artist as he was packing for a short tour of Western Canada, following a successful album launch at Toronto's Dakota Tavern. In the crowd, there were plenty of his musical peers, plus many comrades formerly with BMG Canada, the longtime home of Prairie Oyster.
"I always get nervous playing in Toronto," deCarle rather surprisingly confessed. "'Will anyone show up?' I don't want a dud gig close to my hometown, but it was fantastic. Better than I could hope for."
He is also pleased with the initial response to Alone in this Crowd, an album of which he is justifiably proud. It is eclectic in its musical scope and shows that deCarle is now operating in a completely different sphere than the mainstream faux-country music of today.
"This is the record I wanted to make," he explains. "I see it as having a southern soul vibe, with a real rhythm section. It is stripped down with a big groove and vocals and the gals backing me up who did a great job."
Vocal support on the new album comes from Erin Costelo, Cindy Church, Karla Crawford and Michelle Willis. deCarle singles out East Coaster Costelo as " a real force, he is a force man- great producer, writer singer and player. I had written that duet, 'So Crazy Bout You Baby,' and I saw it as being in that '40s Brook Benton and Dinah Washington mode. We played a show together in Stratford a few years ago, and I immediately saw her as the gal to sing it."
As well as writing the bulk of the material on Alone in this Crowd, deCarle co-produced it with his longtime guitarist Steve Briggs and noted engineer L. Stu Young. "I've been playing with Steve since I took him out on a tour opening for Merle Haggard in 2004, and we've been together ever since. L. Stu is a part of the family; they're both a joy to work with, so there's no stress in the recording."
deCarle and the mainstream country scene parted ways ages ago, as he explains. " Oh man, I am so far removed from that. People will still want to ask me about the country thing, and my opinion on it, but honestly I don't listen to it. There hasn't been anything there for me for a long, long time. It is completely off my radar. It is a funny scene, the country one. Obviously, it was very good to me, but we were pretty self-contained in that scene with Oyster too. We had our own thing going on."
I still have lots of great friends there, and I do think there are a couple of songs on this album people would enjoy if they get a shot. I won't lose any sleep over that though. I'll get played on community radio and CBC and places like Danny Marks' blues show. The new record is just getting out to radio now, and I will work all that stuff."
deCarle is now a fully DIY artist, releasing albums on his own Rusty Car imprint. "That is a lot of at work, but at the end of the day people still want to take my calls," he says. "We didn't burn a lot of bridges with Prairie Oyster, and I was always involved in the business end of my career."
He'll work the new record to the Americana community in the US, and he has made inroads in the UK of late. "I had a real successful UK tour last year, playing all over for nearly a month. It went so well that in February Steve and I flew back over in February for just a weekend to play a theatre on Saturday night at Celtic Connections, the biggest music fest in Glasgow. I'd never been over there before, and people got what I was doing. That is a scene I will mine more."
"I enjoy playing coast to coast in Canada these days," deCarle adds. "There's a great scene for us in Alberta and BC, and this is probably my fifth trip out there this year."
Far from being a jaded veteran, deCarle is, he stresses, "having more fun musically than I ever have. I feel I'm more creative than ever too, with my songwriting. I guess I have something to write about now. I've been at it for a while and have hopefully set a high bar for myself. I'm tempted to tell my own story for the rest of my career. I had a great time being in bands, but now it is my story."