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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Tim Russ

Brave New World

Review by Gary Hill

Often when you hear an album by an actor - some recent examples certainly come to mind - you might think that this person really is neither a singer or a musician and is just being force fed the lines one by one to sell the album based on their name. Trust me, it happens - and I'll bet if you put your mind to it, you can come up with at least a couple of examples right off the bat. Well, with Tim Russ, that's not what you get at all. In fact, he's been playing music longer than he's been acting. So, while you might think of him as the Vulcan Tuvok on Star Trek Voyager, this man is an accomplished musician. Of the seven songs on Brave New World none are what you would call "bad." In fact, there are several that are outstanding. I guess I only have a few relatively minor complaints about the disc. First, it's too short - this thing comes in at under half an hour. As good as it is, I really would like to have had more music on the album. Secondly, the best song on the album is the one that Russ wrote - the title track. Showing that much strength in his compositional ability I would love to have had less covers and more original material. Finally, I think that a little rearranging might have put a stronger cut as the album closer to make a better release. All those things said, though, nothing can take away from the fact that this is a very entertaining album. It's also diverse. At times Russ seems to be wandering towards progressive rock, while other times he's singing the blues and running into the gospel end of the spectrum - yet it feels cohesive. That's quite a feat.

Russ sings very well, but he also provides a vast majority of the sounds on the album, including all the guitars. Bill Burchell took care of the keyboards and sequencing, but he's also credited with "really bad puns." Certainly that last one is a very important function in the recording of any album. In any event, whether you like Star Trek or not, if you are a fan of mature, thoughtful music that is done well, you should give this one a shot. It's a very good album that touches on greatness in a few places. I just hope next time around Russ does more originals and puts together a longer album - as his Trek character might say, "it's logical." You can find out more about, listen to sound clips and purchase the disc at Russ' website.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Brave New World
A keyboard segment starts this, then runs through an introductory flourish. A bouncing keyboard dominated movement forms the basis for the verse, but the chorus comes in with a lush progressive rock style that is very effective. I'd say this song comes close to he proggier side of Sting. It's an exceptionally strong number with a killer arrangement. The lyrics form a sobering look at today's society. I really like this one a lot, and I think it's a track I'll still be listening to a long time from now.
Sing It
This cover (originally performed by David Egan) is a rock ensemble arrangement of an acoustic guitar based folk type song. As Russ lays it down it's a little bluesy, a little gospel and a lot of fun. He puts a lot of "oomph" into his vocal performance.
I Love My Baby
Another cover, this time Russ turns his attention to the music of Willie Dixon. This has a cool (sequenced) horn enhanced arrangement, feeling a bit like the way the Blues Brothers might have arranged this one. It's a nice groove but, while quite good, not up to the level of the last couple tracks.
Moondance
Yes, this is the Van Morrison classic. The texture here, though, is a great change up. It's based on a driving bass line that feels a lot like the Peter Gunn theme. Russ puts in a very dramatic, part funky, part jazz and just a little psychedelic prog take on the track. This one is a killer and one of the highlights of the disc. The guitar solo, punctuated by cool Rabin-era Yes-like keyboard bursts is awesome. This will be another I listen to a lot in the future. As much as I like the original, I think I may prefer Russ' arrangement.
Take Me To The River
Although originally recorded by Al Green, this song is probably best remembered as recorded by the Talking Heads. Don't expect to hear that one here, though. Russ puts in a take closer to the song's origins with a retro rocking blues/gospel take on the piece. This is solid, but were it not for the red hot bridge and Hammond solo it wouldn't stand up to the a few of the other tracks here. Those two aspects, though, pull this one from good to great.
Who's Been Talkin'?
Credited here to Chester Burnette, those in the know will realize that Burnette is better known to the world at large as Howlin' Wolf. Russ plays it appropriately retro with a funky texture and retro organ and killer gritty arrangement. This feels a bit like Robert Cray as Russ does it, but Cray's voice runs in a higher register than Russ. This is another smoker. The guitar solo Russ puts in along with the arrangement in that segment remind me a bit of Santana - and that's pretty high praise for a guitar solo.
World Gone By Me
Well, the artist who wrote this song, Peter Boe, seems to be a bit obscure. Honestly, I had never heard the name before, and did some research on the web, and still came up blank. So, I can't tell you really who originally did this song - although I found one other version listed by Curtis Salgado & the Stilettos. In any event, this one is a gentle balladic number. It's not the strongest cut on the disc, and a bit too "fluffy" for my tastes. It's not bad at all, but I think that one of the other cuts would have been a stronger closer. Still, they put in a rather intricate bridge that's the high point of the piece.


 
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