When The Rippingtons Featuring Russ Freeman debuted in the late 1980s, they were supposed to be a one-act concept. A group of friends assembled by Freeman for what was intended as a one-time project. Now, some 25 years later, The Rippingtons are still going strong with Built to Last (Peak/eOne, 2012).

This release delves into previously uncharged territory. Several tracks are composed like a film score with Freeman handling all orchestra and brass arrangements. Freeman also wrote all the songs, except “Cougars and Gigolos” and “Firefly,” which he co-wrote with his wife, Yaredt Leon.
The title song opens the set, much like the main title of a motion picture. The orchestrations get things going, then about a minute and a half into the piece, the rock band that is The Rippingtons steps in. Freeman gives credit to producer Andi Howard for keeping it intact, a suggestion that had this recording been done with the usual approach, a good bit of material would be left out.
“Route 66” is more of a departure than the orchestral pieces. Though not the classic jazz song of the same name, it does capture the classic jazz sound. The big band vibe carries the tune for the most part, even some real-sounding muted horn synths. Freeman throws in some Montgomery-esque jazz guitar for good measure.

“Built to Last” is recorded three times. The reprise features Freeman alone with his classical guitar. And the set ends with “Built to Last” anchoring a sequence of four pieces that are remade with the orchestral element.

In the liner notes, Freeman tells the story behind Built to Last, with individual notes for each song. There is also a tribute to nearly 60 musicians and featured vocalists who have been part of the Rippingtons at one time or another. However, one shortcoming is that there is no listing of personnel who contributed to Built to Last. Saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa is credited for solos on two songs, and guitarist Zakk Wylde appears on “Monolith.”