Brenda Russell is a musician’s musician, someone better known as a songwriter — her lyrics and music have been recorded by the likes of Luther Vandross and Roberta Flack — than as a singer. She did have a hit in 1979 (”So Good, So Right”), though, and a much bigger one in 1988, with a moody song called ”Piano in the Dark” from her last album. Kiss Me With the Wind will inescapably be seen as a follow-up to her second hit.
The title track, which starts the album, sounds almost like tinkly teen pop, spiced with one touch of irresistible class. ”You’re so very close,” Russell sings, in her breathy, eager voice. ”I’m so very shy, shy.” That repeated ”shy” — the second statement just a little softer than the first — lifts the song far beyond pop formula, into the heady air of pure feeling.
”Stop Running Away” (the first single) is also surefire pop, this time less bouncy and a little more mature. ”All American” takes the album into new territory, though: It’s an antiracist song with a strong rock beat. And in fact Russell can write (and sing) many kinds of music. ”Waiting for You” is the sort of part jazz, part Muzak ballad Anita Baker specializes in. ”Dinner With Gershwin” (originally written for Donna Summer) wouldn’t disgrace George Gershwin’s clever brother, Ira, who wrote his lyrics; ”Night Train to Leningrad,” composed after a visit to Russia, considers the plight of artists under Stalin.
The quality of Russell’s work doesn’t always match its range. The music for ”Night Train to Leningrad” sounds like an uncomfortable cross between Stephen Sondheim and a bad accordion tune. But the most reflective pop number on the album, ”Justice in Truth,” is a small triumph; it starts by hovering low in Russell’s range, then with no warning climbs upward and soars. There’s no point in overpraising Russell’s work, but among minor pleasures she ranks pretty high. B
Kiss Me With the Wind