I used to read Kerrang a lot as a kid, and I vaguely remember a cover feature they ran one week pitting the UK music scene against the US equivalent. I didn’t really care for it at the time, and I care for it even less now, but I know some publications are still somewhat fixated with facing the two against each other. Split The Tip, the latest split from US label Red Scare Industries embraces the two scenes instead of taking sides, and it represents them both brilliantly, featuring two musicians at the top of their game in UK singer-songwriter Sam Russo and Brendan Kelly of US band The Lawrence Arms. With two tracks apiece each brings their own distinct style to the split, and each merits a listen in their own way.
Russo’s tracks are fairly traditional, sounding perhaps like Passenger but without the annoying accent, and I preferred his half of the split although both are very good. It’s easy to see why he’s played with the likes of Frank Turner, with the two tracks he contributes bringing a similar sort of feel to the English folk troubadour, falling somewhere between Turner and Foy Vance, with a talent and charm to match both of them. First song Small Town Shoes is immaculate, making use of a band, cruising during the verses and perking up during the chorus, flickering into life with Russo’s vocals really hitting the mark as he sings ‘Don’t you know it only hurts when what they say is true? / I haven’t felt a single word from anyone but you’. It’s a rousing and surprisingly catchy folk track which somewhat contrasts Crayfish Tales which follows – at least for the first half. Russo’s second song is rougher, more delicate in a sense, losing some of the opener’s fire and replacing it with a darker feel. His voice wavers slightly to match, and it’s a poignant, well penned track, spinning a story of late nights on dark roads, almost Bon Iver-like in its sense of isolation before it picks up around the midpoint, unravelling from a lonely ballad to a lively and cheery track that most likely embodies everything you love about rebellious folk. The song finishes with Russo singing ‘And we were driving round town just laughing at dirty jokes / Some things you gotta try before you die or you’ll never know’, ending his half of the split on a joyride high before Kelly brings it crashing back down again a few seconds later with the line ‘Ain’t got no one to send these goddam boner pictures to.’
I sought my Dad’s consolidation on Brendan Kelly’s half of the split, mainly because even though Kelly’s 20 years younger he sounds as world-weary as I imagine my old man feels five days a week when he’s working and seven days a week when there’s no football on at the weekends. My Dad said he liked the two songs that Kelly contributes, and that’s probably higher praise then anything I could say about Frangelico Houston and Pigs. He’s a man of very few words my Dad, but he knows his music, and these are definitely good songs, differing from Russo’s half of the split. Each is fairly minimalistic in its approach, recorded in the back room of the bar and featuring nothing but Kelly’s acoustic guitar and his own irrefutable down-and-out attitude, similar to the one that often populates a Bukowksi novel or an episode of Californication. It’s the same sort of attitude that makes a song unabashedly honest, and as he asks ‘What happened to having plenty of time? / What happened to my fucking body and mind? ‘ you might find yourself asking the same as the songs rub off on you, for better or worse. Pigs is a cold dose of unabashed reality, with Frangelico Houston likewise, and as Kelly’s voice grates and occasionally cracks his songs are as raw and honest as a song can be, and you’ll recognise that and likely relate to it. His half is incredibly gritty, and it hits home in a completely different way to Russo’s despite teaching a listener a lesson. Kelly sings of home truths but does so breathing down your neck instead of encouraging you to sing along from the stage like Russo does, and you’re guaranteed to take notice either way.
Overall, there’s very little to fault across Split The Tip’s eleven minute length, with each artist bringing a similar amount, to warrant similarly high levels of praise. Although the two styles differ there’s no denying that each is played with heart, and when a song opts for a stripped back approach the majority of time heart is all that’s needed. Here, both Russo and Kelly have it in abundance, and as a whole Split The Tip is absolutely brilliant, because of this amongst countless other less obvious reasons.
Rating – 8/10