Brenda Russell

Paris Rain

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Brenda Russell's commercial breakthrough with the Top Ten hit "Piano in the Dark" in 1988 may have hurt her career as much as it helped, since it set up sales expectations the jazz-pop vocalist was not prepared to meet, and five years later, when Soul Talkin' failed to find a big enough audience, she lost her major-label recording contract. Seven years on, Russell is back on a major label, albeit through Hidden Beach Recordings' manufacturing and distribution deal with Epic Records, a division of Sony Music. But she remains a refined artist unlikely to appeal to a mass audience. She writes mature love songs and sings them in a smoky alto over minor-key jazz arrangements played by expensive session musicians and contemporary jazz guest stars like Kirk Whalum, Dave Koz, and Yellowjackets members Russell Ferrante and Jimmy Haslip. It's music for smooth jazz and adult contemporary radio. But for all its sophistication, it is more about style than substance. When Russell isn't singing about romantic love, she's singing about universal love in such songs as "Ideal World" and "Catch On," which are as fuzzy-headed as they are well-meaning. She is a self-satisfied performer; you can hear her sense of her own significance in practically every note, and in "Expect a Miracle" she alludes to the "ruthless dirty game/Cuttin' corners for the fame" that failed to recognize her worth in the past. Maybe so, but at least on this album, she doesn't present overwhelming evidence to support her sense of injustice. Paris Rain is a pleasant listening experience, not the major new statement of an important artist.

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