An earthy, raw, but surprisingly refined modern folk record, all of the tracks on Spare Change are Luther Russell performing solo and acoustic (on guitar or piano), with positively no overdubs. Because of this, the songs themselves are the main focus, and involve the listener in a kind of psychic house of mirrors, and the effect is truly revelatory and wholly engaging. One thing that strikes the listener is the fact that Spare Change is sort of a modern-day protest record. However, some of the politics that Russell is writing and singing about are emotional politics of the present tense. The opening song bears this out. "Broken Man" is a slightly surrealistic litany of character faults that subtly attacks materialistic values. Without anger or heavy-handed sentiment, the emotion here retains a realistic bitterness that most listeners have felt. The fact that Russell performs solo here underlines the statement. In fact, although this is a "record," it is really more a series of performances, and everyone is all the better for that. Russell is indeed a great record-maker, as his rock albums by the long-lamented Freewheelers and his productions of several Oregon-based artists will attest. Yet as a songwriter, he is also clearly carrying on the tradition of songwriting troubadours. Despite the limited format of the album, the troubadour in Russell shines from start to finish. Sonically, this record is a direct, living-room recording with great bottom-end acoustics and some interesting, low-fi production techniques, such as the "room" ambience that he achieves on "Someday Blues." This record will certainly not receive any engineering awards and that clearly isn't the goal here. It is, however, an accurate and emotional chronicle of the human condition of the early 21st century. Looking for "live art," or "the folk process" at work? Look no further.
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AllMusic Review by Matthew Greenwald