The sight of Allison Russell and JT Nero playing together is an unlikely vision, but it’s proven to be a comfortable and productive pairing.
The two have worked together on countless occasions via their full-time gigs in Canadian roots band Po’ Girl and Chicago soul group JT and the Clouds, respectively, but with Nero’s latest solo release, “mountains/forests,” they got to up the committal.
“We’d guested on each other’s albums over the years and worked together when we could, but never something like this,” Russell said. “We’re a little spoiled by the experience. It will be difficult to go back to the normal environment.”
Although the effort was very much collaborative, Nero remains the chief songwriter, and his name is the only one you’ll find on the cover. Still, enough couldn’t be said about what Russell brought to the equation. A gap in Po’ Girl’s schedule has allowed her to accompany Nero on the tour, including next Wednesday at The Deli and May 23 at The Blue Door. In doing so, the soulful and restrained album has become just as much hers.
“The solo moniker, we joke about it every night onstage,” Russell said. “It gives him the freedom to tour with whichever musical co-conspirators are available, but I feel very much invested in the project.”
Her investment has paid many dividends; she is not only enjoying being a player instead of the lead, but her road life with Nero has taught her things she plans to carry forward with Po’ Girl.
“JT has debunked the myth of waiting for songs to strike from divine inspiration that we had held so fiercely,” she said. “He writes every day, approaches it as a craft, and I see myself moving more toward that. Oh, and I’ve been playing a lot of the ukulele on this tour, and I really like it. Po’ Girl is just going to have to put up with that in the future.”
The experience has been so positive, she hopes for more.
“I could see us working together on more albums, maybe under both our names,” Russell said with a laugh. “I have a real hankering to do an oldfashioned album of duets, and I’m going to try to rope him into that.”
Her slate is full of projects both real and imagined, all packed in a relentless touring schedule with any number of musicians, much like this one. She keeps at it because she loves it, and can’t give up any opportunity to hit the road with them.
“I love this life, playing music with my loved ones. I feel lucky to be able to do that and have work and sustain ourselves,” she said. “My bandmates think I’m nuts because I’ll have a Po’ Girl tour, take four days off and then hit the road with JT, but I’ve been thriving on it so far.”