Russell Chell, second year music major at Mercer, has grown into a killer lead-guitarist in the Brooklyn based rock group, The Skins. Chell and his fellow guitarist, Daisy Spencer, have joined with three siblings, Bayli, Kaya, and Reef Mckeithan to form a band with a refreshing new sound. The Skins create a mixture of the heavy guitar blues of The Black Keys with the new age soul vocals of Adele, all while harkening back to the early 1970s Metal bands. The Skins EP has three tracks, all containing distinct but simple Jimmy Page-style riffs repeating like a Robert DeNiro character when he knows he’s right about something.

I’m not denying the cool factor of Donnie and Marie or Sonny and Cher, but the Mckeithan’s sound introduces a dark, bluesy twist to sibling groups. Between Bayli’s haunting Amy Winehouse-style vocals and the bumping rock pocket of Kaya and Reef’s bass and drums, the maturity of their sound reflects a lifetime of rock by day and blues by night.  The maturity of their sound is surprising since none of the Mckeithans are old enough to buy cigarettes.

The new-age R&B sound of the Mckeithan family is complemented by Chell and Spencer’s dueling guitars. It’s hard to tell through the smokescreen of distortion exactly where Chell’s guitar ends and Spencer’s begins, showing musical understanding and control far beyond their years. Chell’s screaming solo on “Summertime” carries all the zeal, vigor and tasty licks you could ask for.

In his interview with the VOICE, Chell said, “I use that stuff in my music all the time.” He continued: “Everything I know about jazz, I learned from James Kelly.” That is, Professor James Kelly, Coordinator of the Music program here at Mercer.

In an interview with The VOICE, Prof. Kelly said, “From my point of view, we’ve cultivated a great relationship as a sort of mentor-apprentice kind of thing.” He continued, “But his time is divided…” While Prof. Kelly was concerned with Chell’s split time between his education and his music career, Kelly offered heartfelt advice for life as a musician: “This is an opportunity you can’t possibly pass up. You have to go for it, now. An opportunity like this presents itself maybe once, and you have to go for it while you’re young.”

Second year Mercer music major at Mercer, Kurt Moreton, explained The Skins’ very particular sound: “The Skins remind me of The Heavy, in that they’re really freakin’ heavy.”

The VOICE asked Chell about The Skins’ major influences, he responded in his naturally understated yet condescending style, “Well, we like music.” After peeling through a few layers of sarcasm he said,  “Straight ahead rock. Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, it’s kind of like a mix of shit. Obviously a lot of rock influence, but our singer is more into Amy Winehouse, very R&B and soul influenced.”

Chell gave his thoughts on the Rock n roll lifestyle. His response carried the wisdom of an old rocker who did coke and dressed up like Ru Paul in the 70’s, but got his act together after realizing that all of his money and dignity were tied up in pantyhose and KISS memorabilia. “If you’re into the whole dickin’ around and getting drunk and high all the time thing, you’re not going to get shit done. You kind of have to get your shit together if you’re really going to do it,” he said.

And The Skins are doing it. They are working with Wreckroom Records out of Brooklyn, NY, and have a EP released on iTunes. They’ve been featured several times on Afropunk.com, and they will be playing at the Afro-punk festival this August. Afro-punk is an organization stemming from a 2003 rock and roll cult-classic film of the same title. On the Afropunk.com, it describes itself as “a touchstone of a cultural movement strongly reminiscent of the early days of Hip-Hop.”

In “Ocean,” off The Skins EP, Bayli introduces a raunchy Hendrix-style guitar solo, belting the words, “Watch out, watch out. This fire is starting to burn!” I can’t help but agree.

If you are as sick as I am of the cookie cutter songs on the radio led by half-decent female vocalists, go on Facebook, add them, buy their EP on iTunes, take a trip up to NY and see them, and most of all enjoy the brilliantly original sounds of The Skins, featuring Mercer’s very own Russell Chell.

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Dan Povio
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