After a long night of sound-alike artists and retread grooves, there is a welcome artistic brilliance dawning once again on the musical horizon. Stellar comparisons are fitting, for after a seven-year absence from recording, acclaimed singer/songwriter Brenda Russell returns to offer us a glowing piece of sky: "Paris Rain," her first album for Hidden Beach Recordings.
This exquisitely crafted album is an elegant journey of mood, melody, memory, and, of course, some of the most evocative, intelligent lyrics ever set to music. Author of such gems as "Piano In The Dark," "If Only For One Night," and the much-loved anthem "Get Here," Brenda Russell continues to exercise her miraculous powers of inspirational songcraft as well as her richly nuanced voice on the new "Paris Rain," a glorious listening experience that will satisfy the expectations of longtime Russell fans and enchant new listeners.
As one of few artists who have successfully been able to incorporate a wide range of musical influences--rock, pop, R&B, jazz, classical, Latin--into a distinct style that defies categorization while attracting fans around the world, Brenda Russell's music endures through time and trends. Crafted in conjunction with her longtime production collaborator Stephan Oberhoff, "Paris Rain" is another treasure in this unique trove. With guest appearances by saxophonists Kirk Whalum and Dave Koz, Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Hazlip and pianist Russell Ferrante, keyboardists Greg Phillinganes and Brenda's musical director Bill Sharpe, the glorious set finds Brenda traversing the globe, lyrically and stylistically, offering a series of melodic photographs, moments snapped in Paris, Rio de Janeiro, New York, on a rain swept street, at a jazz cafe, inside a human soul.
The title track, "Love And Paris Rain" is an aching, passionate midnight piano sonata with melody and lyrics so intensely beautiful that it may well take your breath away. "The music was written by pianist Russell Ferrante and Will Kennedy of the Yellowjackets. They played some music for me and said, 'We want a lyric for our record,'" Brenda recalls. "I listened to different pieces of music, this came on, and after it was over I just started crying. I didn't know what else to do, I just lost it. And they were so happy I liked it, they were laughing and feeling good. And I'm crying! It was so gorgeous. I said, 'Well you know I have to go to Paris to write this.'" Driving through the streets in the City Of Lights, the words "love and Paris rain" arrived for Brenda. The result will carry the listener into a deep romantic reverie that is slow to fade from mind.
A trip to New York with her daughter (a singer/songwriter in her own right)
inspired the Latin-grooved "Walking In New York," with drums by Sheila
E., which captures the Saturday-morning wonder of strolling the variety of Big
Apple streets at leisure. "It's just memories that stick in your mind of,
Oh, I remember the day when we walked for 29 blocks and just had a ball,"
Brenda recalls. "And of course the Latin influence, because to me growing
up in New York, there were very Puerto Rican influences with people in the park
Fans of Brenda's lush soul/pop will be delighted with her torch-song turn, the lovely "Baby Eyes," which finds her in a small jazz combo setting with the focus on her multi-layered, smoky voice. And Brenda collaborated with another venerable singer/songwriter, Carole King, on the love song "Move The Moon."
And, as she has on numerous albums, Brenda Russell offers us her inspirational worldview through songs of hope and universal love, like the album's open invitation for citizens of the globe to "find a better way," called "Ideal World." The set's engaging leadoff single carries the theme of universal love further on "Catch On," a tune whose exquisite marriage of piano chords with ringing guitars and sprightly percussion deftly delivers the message that "Love will lead the way" in classic Russell style. The songwriter also stresses spiritual optimism in the form of the thoughtful melody "Expect A Miracle," a tune that she wrote out of the depths of overcoming an incident of her own professional disappointment: "In a ruthless dirty game/ cutting corners for the fame/shameful/ moving down this road of life/truth is I need the light/to travel/ In the wake of a storm, oh, expect a miracle/just when your heart's given up . . . "
"I never write songs that are hopeless," the accomplished artist explains. "People have to be inspired to another level. Like: My heart can go on! I may feel like I'm going to die, but I'm not going to die! Something else could be around the corner, so I take responsibility on myself to inspire people and even make you cry, Yes, I'll make you cry but I won't leave you hopeless."
The artist herself had to hang on to the hope of finding a recording contract
after almost seven years of inactivity following the release of 1993's
"Soul Talkin'." Discouraged by the music industry's attitudes toward
mature artists, Brenda instead retrenched, traveling and challenging her
creative processes by collaborating with other musicians. In 1998, a chance
re-meeting with veteran music executive Steve McKeever, now president of Santa
Monica-based Hidden Beach Recordings, at the famed Agape Center proved
providential. A huge fan of Brenda's music, McKeever immediately moved to sign
the venerable artist..
"Steve knew every song, he was a real fan, and he was into the music and into what I was doing as an artist," says Brenda of McKeever, who had heard a demo of her newer material and had planned to contact her. "I was totally delighted to join forces with Hidden Beach."
Hidden Beach Recordings, as its name suggests, endeavors to provide a musical oasis of artistic freedom and innovation, and is the perfect launching pad for the beauty of Brenda Russell's "Paris Rain."
"This album is a totally inspired work, I believe in it so much," says Brenda of "Paris Rain," adding that her unique artistry is divinely inspired. "I believe in it so much."
Born to musical parents in Brooklyn, New York, Brenda Russell grew up there and in the Canadian town of Hamilton, Ontario. There was never a time in her life when the artist was without music. "I started writing songs because I watched my mom do it all the time, and it was just a natural thing to do," says Brenda. "I loved music, I really loved it and I felt it in my soul from the time I was two." She says her musical sensibilities were formed by an array of music from Broadway tunes to doo-wop to jazz, blues, rock, and Latin. Brenda remenbers her mother waking her in the middle of the night to help her sing harmonies for songs she was writing.
Singing as a teen brought her to performing in the Canadian company of the rock musical "Hair" in Toronto, where she encountered her first piano in the lobby of the theater. Without a formal music education, Brenda says she despaired of being able to accompany herself on the songs she envisioned. "Then I had this revelation that: 'You're not doing this, you are just a channel for this, something opened up and it came through you.' Once I realized that I was sort of fearless about songwriting after that. Because if that's the way it is, I can do anything, And that's the premise I've based my whole writing career on."
After moving to Los Angeles in the early '70s, Brenda began circulating a demo of her songs. She was signed to Tommy LiPuma's Horizon Records, and her first single, "So Good, So Right" was released in 1979. Her unusual and winning mix of pop and R&B with intelligent lyrics was previously unheard of; pop radio jumped on the tune, and when black radio discovered that the singer was black, they played it too. But in the midst of the record's ascent, Horizon Records folded. Brenda transferred to A&M Records, where she formed a bond with label founder Herb Alpert and released "Brenda Russell" and "Love Life." Her contract was picked up by Warner Bros. for the 1983 album "Two Eyes" before moving to Sweden for a while, where she wrote tunes for her A&M return, "Get Here." That 1988 album contained the Grammy-winning "Piano In The Dark" and the gorgeous "Le Restaurant."
A singer, songwriter, arranger and producer of taste and vision, Brenda's brilliant compositions have also been recorded by other artists, most notably Oleta Adams, whose 1990 version of "Get Here," was later adopted as a theme in the 1996 Persian Gulf War for returning soldiers. Written in Stockholm, and thought by its author to be "corny," "Get Here" has since become the song "that has really brought me a lot of emotional love," Brenda says.
After a 1992 "Greatest Hits" package and her 1993 set "Soul Talkin'," Brenda took time off to regroup and travel. Continuing to write, produce, and collaborate with other artists, Brenda honed her craft and began looking for another deal. She contributed tunes to other projects, including Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Patti LaBelle, and the soundtrack to "How Stella Got Her Groove Back"; she also participated in the international Music Bridges project, a program that pairs American musicians with those in foreign countries for musical collaborations. Brenda traveled to Russia, Bali, Ireland, and most recently Cuba. "I've been traveling around the world and meeting people from all around the planet, and that has made me a richer artist," says Brenda
That richness is demonstrated on her first album of new material in seven years, "Paris Rain."
© Hidden Beach Records