Although her catalog of albums numbers just seven (not including two compilations of her work), Brenda Russell's artistry has made her one of the most enduring singer-songwriters in contemporary music. 1988's "Piano In The Dark" may have been her biggest mainstream hit record but ever since "So Good, So Right," the lead single from her still-classic solo debut album hit the airwaves in 1979, Brenda Russell has enjoyed the loyal support of discerning record buyers the world over.
While there have been gaps between the release of those seven albums, each one has been greeted with acclaim and recognition from her peers within the music industry, from the media and from the audience she has nurtured since that self-titled A&M/Horizon album was released. Prior to her solo album's arrival, the Brooklyn-born, Toronto-raised artist had distinguished herself with two recordings made with then-husband Brian Russell under the name "Brian And Brenda" for Elton John's Rocket Records. Neither "Word Called Love" nor "Supersonic Lover" were major best-sellers even though one single "That's All Right Too" did manage to make it to the R&B Top 100 in 1978.
Following the couple's divorce, Brenda launched her own career and working with Rufus drummer Andre Fischer, she crafted a wonderful first record that had critics raving. Two singles jumped off that self-titled set , the afore-mentioned "So Good, So Right" (a Top 20 R&B and Top 30 pop hit) and "Way Back When"; a follow-up album that Brenda and producer Fischer created was rejected by A&M so her official sophomore solo record, "Love Life" was produced by Stewart Levine (known for his work with The Crusaders and B.B. King among others).
When that second A&M album failed to make as much impact as its predecessor, Brenda found herself seeking a new recording home. "I came to be with Warner Brothers because of Tommy LiPuma," recalled Brenda in a 2002 phone interview. "He had originally signed me to Horizon. When he went over to Warner Brothers as head of A&R, he was willing to sign me to the label..."
And, although it was destined to be one of her most under-promoted projects, the resultant Warner Brothers' one and only set TWO EYES has often been considered by Russell aficionados as one of her best recordings.
The mystique surrounding the LP, originally released in 1983, is easy to comprehend. Aside from receiving little exposure, TWO EYES contains some of Brenda's finest work. Cast by producer LiPuma in a delicious musical setting with the very cream of Los Angeles musicians, the nine-song album features five solo Russell compositions and four notable collaborations; recording sessions were done at two L.A. studios, Sounds Labs and Sunset Sound, with Grammy Award-winner Al Schmitt, responsible for recording and mixing. Brenda says working with LiPuma was "heaven. I was very
honored to be working with him because I was such a huge fan and he had worked with a lot of brilliant and wonderful artists." Prior to the TWO EYES sessions, LiPuma's production credits had included sessions with Michael Franks, Al Jarreau, George Benson, Joao Gilberto and Dave Mason.
Even though she went through "extreme depression" after completing the album, "almost like the post-partum that women have after giving birth," Brenda was "real happy" with the final product. "It's typical for me to go through that after I make a record. All of a sudden everything sounds horrendous...you know, just a little bit of trauma!" After living with it for a while, Brenda concedes that she considered TWO EYES "a very good record." While executives at Warner Brothers may have felt the same way, the album virtually disappeared within months, with hardly any promotion and very little airplay.
Ironically, it was the album's release that led to an all-important next chapter in Brenda's career: "Apparently, there was a Swedish television show that was trying to book me. Well, I guess Warners knew they were going to drop me from the label so they never sent the message. Someone ‘backdoor-ed' the message and I was invited to come and play in Stockholm...and life was never the same!" In 1984, Brenda began an almost four-month tenure in Sweden, writing and recording tracks which eventually ended up as the foundation for her "Get Here" album. It was upon her return to the U.S. that she hooked back up with A&M Records where she cut the rest of the "Get Here" album. That record not only garnered Brenda a major hit with "Piano In The Dark" but by virtue of a cover of the title track by Oleta Adams, Brenda was assured of even greater acclaim and recognition for her prolific skill as a master tunesmith.
Since then, she has recorded three albums, the most recent of which is the 2000 release "Paris Rain." The summer of 2002 finds her working on the Broadway musical version of "The Color Purple" with songwriter Allee Willis (whose credits include tunes recorded by Earth, Wind & Fire, Jennifer Holliday, Patti Labelle and Bette Midler among others) and drummer Stephen Bray (known in particular for his work with Madonna).
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.