Bering Strait

Bering Strait

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For the benefit of the geographically challenged, the Bering Strait is the stretch of water, 55 miles across at its narrowest, between western Alaska and eastern Siberia, the place where the U.S. and Russia come the closest to connecting. In fact, since it is frozen over more than half the year, it's the point at which the two countries do connect. The name is an appropriate one, then, to be taken by a Russian group playing Western-style country music. The classically trained musicians certainly known their way around Nashville licks, and lead singer Natasha Borzilova has her accent under control to the extent of sounding American, if not actually southern. As a result, you could listen to most of the group's debut album without knowing that they come from Obninsk. But if the members transcend the novelty status of their origins, Bering Strait necessarily faces a second challenge: Is it a significant country act? And here the answer is more problematic. Producer Brent Maher has marshaled the usual songwriting pros in Music City and given the group a contemporary country (which is to say, pop/rock) sound that makes it possible to play them on country radio alongside Faith Hill and Shania Twain, but that means that, for the most part, Bering Strait is just another mediocre Nashville product. It isn't until near the end, with the instrumental "Bearing Straight," which is actually a medley of bluegrass and new age tunes, that the group's musicianship begins to have an individual flavor. This is followed by "Porushka-Paranya," a country hoedown with Russian lyrics. If the album contained more tracks like that, instead of being dominated by bland romantic ballads, Bering Strait might seem like an interesting new wrinkle in country music instead of another run-of-the-mill Nashville project with exotic origins.

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