Russ Taff is back. The soulful voice returns with a solo album that encapsulates the highlights of his solo career without getting nostalgic….
12 tracks / 55 minutes
Russ Taff is back in a big way, with a bare-all documentary by Rick Altizer (Russ Taff: I Still Believe) and the more succinctly-titled Believe - a new solo studio album. Believe is, thankfully, not just a collection or a retrospective but rather a statement of who the artist is today with a solid nod to the highlights of his solo career. Although Taff’s first release in seven years is being called his ‘first Praise and Worship’ project, don’t let that scare you – this is closer to the artist’s solo projects than to his work with The Imperials. Taff’s strength has always been his soulful and distinct voice which is best served – in this writer’s opinion – by the backing of a classic rock band format of bass, drums, guitar, and organ. The presence of a Hammond B3 (or its clone) tips the music just past rock and into gospel/soul, which is Russ’s wheelhouse.
Believe starts off powerfully with “Your Love Never Fails,” a hard-hitting piece of soul/rock/gospel with Bonnie Bramlett-like harmony on the chorus, a great hook, and everything you could want to hear if you’re a fan of Taff’s classic albums from the late 80s into the early 90s. This is the way Taff should be recorded – as the visceral communicator fronting a hard-hitting band with no frills or synths.
The iconic “I Still Believe” follows the first track and is a pleasure to hear again, especially since a lot of troubled water has passed under the bridge since the Taff first made the Michael Been tune his own.
The album stays generally strong with the confessional “Don’t Try So Hard” and the more CCM “Same Power.” Stylistically, “I Am” seems to be a bit of a misstep with a vocal not totally suited to Taff’s style and shared a bit awkwardly with David Crowder – despite a great guitar solo, “I Am” also introduces the first noticeable presence of the synth sounds and electronic percussion that, for me, intrude a bit on the next few songs. “When I Hear Your Name,” for instance, with its strong organ presence, articulate acoustic guitar, intricate melody, and intimate, emotional vocal, isn’t helped by electronics.
The radicalism of the lyrics of “There is a Fountain” is well served by Russ’s visceral vocal performance and interesting orchestral setting – but once again, the ancient truths of this hymn aren’t well served by a bed of electronic percussion. Erasing the percussion track would improve the track – of course, this is maybe just my own perspective – your mileage may vary…..
Slide guitar and a drum barrage open “There’s a Hellelujah in it All,” an anthemic CCM track with some edge to it. The penultimate track features Taff accompanied by piano and lush orchestration on the stately “Isn’t the Name,” which feels almost like his “You are so Beautiful” moment on the album (hopefully, the Joe Cocker reference isn’t lost on most of you).
If there’s a Russ Taff song that really cemented his name into the consciousness of the world of Christian music it would probably be “We Will Stand” (even though “I Still Believe” might be the high watermark for many of his fans) and it’s appropriately placed as the capstone of this project. A perfect lyric, an indelible melody, a great hook – certainly, this is an iconic song that will always be mentioned when we talk about the career of this man who has (especially in light of the Rick Altizer documentary that chronicles the artist’s personal and spiritual battles) been pretty much poured out and still stands.
For me, this is a good album sandwiched between some songs that show Taff at his creative and performing best. Certainly, the talent is there – among others, Nick D’Virgiolio (ex-Spock’s Beard) and John Hammond on drums, Dave Martin and Mark Hill on bass, the legendary Phil Naish on keys, Don Carr and the amazing Tom Hemby on guitars add up to a powerful assembly of players. Next time, more grit and less beats in the production and we’ll get a full-strength Russ Taff album – because he’s still got what it takes – and with a core band like that, I still believe….
- Bert Saraco
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