Russell (center) is about more than touching your heart these days.

Some of the fine young members of Green River Ordinance still fondly recall the Acoustic Mafia. Featuring Brandin Lea (Jetta in the Ghost Tree, formerly Flickerstick) and Calhoun’s Tim Locke plus John Price and Collin Herring (and a few other singer-songwriters of the pop/rock/Americana persuasion), the monthly not-always-acoustic round-robin at the Aardvark and later the Moon was, with perhaps the exception of the every-Sunday jazz jams at the Black Dog Tavern, the only crossover show in town in the early aughts. Along with pretty much every musician in the Fort, and sometimes their parents, you also had pretty much every TCU student of all time. But we all got along. For the most part.

But if you glanced beyond the GRO cutie-patooties and the studs onstage, you may have spotted a young guy possibly describable/nameable as “Half Price.” Rocking the same shaggy scruff over the same kind of ruggedly handsome head, and also togging the same kind of stylish vintage gear, was another singer-songwriter who was arguably just as capable of achieving catchy pop-rock glory as Price. In a righteous world, Sean Russell’s music would be the soundtrack to every serious moment in every Hollywood rom-com or WB drama from here on out. Alas, here Russell is, fighting through the North Texas scene by playing wherever will have him but now surging through midlife by dropping a glistening album of buttery pop-rock goodness.

Recorded with producer/guitarist Taylor Tatsch (Shadows of Jets, Jetta in the Ghost Tree, Maren Morris) under the moniker the Cut Throat Finches, Reality began taking shape in the studio about two years ago, Russell said, long before Tatsch relocated his AudioStyles from Colleyville to the Austin region. “However,” Russell said, “while writing the songs with more input from Tatsch, we developed a very different sound, more true to our love of big British rock.”

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Perhaps unusual for a pop songsmith, Russell isn’t all about love and relationships. “Hearing the way people are openly talking about certain groups who have been deemed fair game by the right wing in speeches shrouded in religion or patriotism, or sometimes the silence by the right in the face of fascist rhetoric, is sickening,” Russell said. “Many of these songs were written in the hope of encouraging the marginalized.”

Reality’s first single, “Ideology Ends,” is –– as if the name were merely ironic –– a direct confrontation with the titular, paralyzing frame of mind. “This song,” Russell said, “is about listening more and talking less and makes the plea to stop spreading the poisonous politics on both sides. I do believe ideological poison is killing us in religion and politics.”

But don’t misunderstand. Russell still wants to touch your heart. And, boy, does he ever. The album’s sweetest song, and probably the sweetest song I’ve heard since Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark,” is “Rabbit,” a jaunty number that, as the lyrics reveal, is about a lot more than an enchanting woman who once saved a rabbit from a stew. The first thing I’m going to do when I get home tonight is download this song to my wife’s iPod playlist. Yes, my wife has a playlist. Yes, I’m in charge of it. “She believes,” Russell sings in his nasally yet syrupy voice over a whirling, skipping rhythm. “I’ll be younger in a year / Every next kiss is the first / And then I’ll dance to songs I’ll never hear … She sees the world / In a way that I’ve forgotten or ignored / She sees / The man that I don’t see / She sets the distance that tomorrow I will be.”

Near the end, after that mercurial snare has left you dizzy, the music bottoms out, leaving just Russell and his acoustic guitar: “She says / Don’t you leave without a kiss / ’Cause today at work I’ll miss / Every moment that together might have been / Every moment is a life I could have lived.”

Makes me want to get married all over again. Nicely done, Sean.

Rounded out by Eric Webb (Jetta in the Ghost Tree) on keys and guitar, Jacob Martinez on bass, and Fort Worth newcomer via Austin Draya Ruse on drums, the Cut Throat Finches will celebrate the release of their new album on Friday at Shipping & Receiving with Austin’s Blue Healer.


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