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BRENDA RUSSELL 2000 SOULMUSIC.COM INTERVIEW
She has long been a favorite of discerning music lovers who appreciate the art of musical storytelling. Whenever her name is mentioned in industry circles or among fellow artists, Brenda Russell justifiably receives praise and acclaim: she is quite simply, one of the very best singer-songwriters in contemporary music and while Brenda has yet to achieve the kind of ongoing mainstream success her music deserves, she is revered and appreciated by all who have heard her small-but-creatively-mighty catalog of seven albums (eight, including a less-than-stellar "Greatest Hits" package put together a few years ago by A&M).

Tragically, most of her music is unavailable: rarities like "Two Eyes," her Warners album, fetch hundreds of dollars in online auctions and while her remarkable 1978 debut set is finally about to be reissued on CD, other gems like "Love Life" have only seen the light of day (for a hot second) in Japan. Maybe one day, we’ll be able to get all of Brenda’s wonderful music online but till then, Russell fans are in for a treat. Brenda has a sparkling new album, "Paris Rain," her first in seven years and her debut for the new Hidden Beach label.

The record is literally filled with beautiful music and is already firmly lodged in my personal Top 5 albums of the year. "Move The Moon," co-penned with one of Brenda’s longtime musical heroines Carole King is an infectious delight as is "Expect A Miracle." The title track, "Love And Paris Rain" (originally recorded with The Yellowjackets in a different musical setting) is simply gorgeous; "Walkin’ In New York" is a catchy,

‘up’ tune; while "Something About Your Love" – written by the late William D. Smith and songwriter Kathy Wakefield and recorded by Brenda in tribute to the talented musician and recording artist – is an R&B delight. The Brazilian-styled "Please Felipe" provides an unforgettable slice of Latin flavor and the album’s closer, "Baby Eyes" finds Brenda in an intimate, late night mood, another stunner from an album that will have Russell afficianados.

Understandably, Brenda is delighted with the album which she produced with Stephan Oberhoff: "I’m thrilled that I got to make another record," she says. "I think it’s an awesome privilege that I value. After my last album (the 1993 EMI set "Soul Talkin’"), I was very discouraged. The ‘business’ of music was really getting to me so I withdrew from pursuing the artist thing. I had to stop and remember why I loved making music and go back to basics. I had a few years of growing as a human being and that was very necessary for me…"

While she didn’t actively pursue a record deal, Brenda was far from inactive: Tina Turner recorded her song "Dancing In My Dreams;" Patti LaBelle cut Brenda’s "Flame" as the title track for her last album; she worked with Diana Ross on her 1995 CD "Take Me Higher"; appeared in the movie "Liberty Heights"; had a 1978 song "A Little Bit Of Love" sampled by rapper Big Pun; performed with Johnny Gill and Peabo Bryson in Japan; toured for two years in a row with Dave Koz, David Benoit and Peter White; and most recently, wrote a song recorded by another longtime Russell favorite Sting on a tribute album to Brazilian musical icon, Ivan Lins (who co-wrote "Please Felipe" on Brenda’s new set), as well as co-writing a tune with Patti Austin for her next Qwest album.

"I discovered that I could have a real life without a record deal," Brenda explains, "so for seven years, I just kept writing. Then, towards the beginning of 1998, I had a revelation. It was like, ‘just do an album now, whether you think you’re ready or not!’ People would come up to me and say, ‘girl, you better make this record!’ I felt like I was being divinely-led…"

Divine, indeed, for Brenda ‘ran’ into former MoJazz and Motown executive Steve McKeever at Agape, the place of worship that she, Steve and I attend. "Steve had heard a demo that was being circulated on a limited basis to different people in the industry and when I ran into him at church, I didn’t even know he had a record label," Brenda recalls. "He told me he was one of my biggest fans and he started naming songs I forgot I wrote! He told me his vision for Hidden Beach was to be a place where artists could make music of quality and integrity so we were definitely on the same page..."

Fortunately, Brenda had been stockpiling songs she’d worked on with engineer-producer Oberhoff, who she met through Sharon Perri (of the Perri sisters, who guest on Brenda’s album along with Dave Koz, Kirk Whalum, Sheila E., Greg Phillinganes, Siedah Garrett, Arnold McCuller, Jimmy Haslip, Vinnie Colaiuta, Paulinho Da Costa, Lenny Castro and others). "By the late fall of last year, we had finished and all I can say is, there’s a lot of love all over this record," says Brenda. "I mean, once I realized I was going to have a new album out, I was a little scared because I wondered if the music would reach people because the industry is so focused on teens and they’re not catering to adult audiences even though there is a huge audience who are hungry for music to which they can relate…"

As Brenda has found from initial response to the new album, "There are people who have been waiting for me to do a record. I knew I had an audience out there but it’s not something I think about. I don’t expect people to say ‘where have you been, girlfriend?’ I just pray that I’ve done a good job and that people enjoy the music. It makes my heart feel good when people respond positively to it…"

Noting that "Paris Rain" is "a reflection of where I am spiritually, emotionally and musically," Brenda reveals that, while she has become well known as a songwriter (check Oleta Adams’ "Get Here" and "If Only For One Night," covered by Luther Vandross as examples), "I started out as a singer. I evolved into writing but I always wanted to be out front with my music… I used to put it out there that I wrote because I wanted people to come to me for songs and I thought it would enhance my credibility as an artist…"

That Brenda has achieved more than a little credibility is without question: hopefully, with the impending release of "Paris Rain," her superb work as a recording artist and songwriter of the highest caliber will make new converts of those who have yet to discover her amazing artistry.

About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.
  
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