Devin Russian is well-known as the mild-mannered yet resolute co-proprietor of Garfield's ModernFormations gallery and performance space. But he has a secret identity, sneaking out at night like Matt Murdock (a.k.a. Daredevil), to hone his craft on smaller local stages as ... Singer/Songwriter Man, with the power to wield the Loudest Acoustic Guitar in the 'Burgh.
Lost Springs: Population 1 is the first evidence of his adventures, recorded quite sparsely at H-Hour Studio by Modey Lemon member Jason Kirker. From the crazy-looking cover art -- a rabbit vomiting blood -- you have to wonder what's inside Russian's head. The answer: stripped-down, literate indie-folk, somewhat reminiscent of early '90s lo-fi such as Lou Barlow, Simon Joyner and Franklin Bruno.
And the words aren't too happy, in the vein of bleaker Americana such as Mark Eitzel or even Michael Gira. The CD photo of a sign heralding the desolate, one-man town of Lost Springs echoes on in phrases such as "the longer days aren't worth looking forward / the longer hours in my dying world."
The music itself takes some interesting, unexpected turns. Dissonant chord changes on "Stormy Weather" and the minor-key dirge-waltz on "End" are balanced by poignant lyricism on mellower tracks like "The Getaway," which may paint a nostalgic picture of Russian's native Johnstown ("marching down main street between the flags, watching old soldiers on swampy grass"). But such strengths can be compromised by the limitations of Russian's vocals. His singing is tentative, sometimes quavering and cracked, and not quite ready to hit all those high notes.
To indie-rock or freak-folk listeners accustomed to a quirky DIY approach, this can be endearing and distinctive, but a little rough to the vast majority raised on more polished material. With some cleanup, the closer "Long Way Home" could hit the radio running with its meaty chorus and swaying tempo.
So, it depends on Russian's goal. If Lost Springs is meant as a timely keepsake for friends and admirers within the scene, it serves its purpose quite well. But if it's also a springboard for future efforts, then it's worth keeping an eye on Russian, to observe how his overall skills grow and develop at a venue near you.