BRENDA RUSSELL: ‘Two Eyes’ (bbr)


This was the Brooklyn-born singer/songwriter’s third album, following in the wake of two LPs issued for A&M in 1979 and 1981 (they were ‘Brenda Russell,’ on producer Tommy LiPuma’s Horizon imprint and ‘Love Life’).  Russell had a modest hit at A&M (‘So Good So Right’) but followed her producer LiPuma to Warner Bros in 1983 in the hope of achieving bigger things. Sadly and inexplicably, Russell’s solitary long player for the Burbank-based company didn’t yield any hits and it was another five years before she returned to recording  – ironically enough – back at A&M scoring the biggest album of her career with ‘Get Here.’

Though a commercial disappointment for her record company, the truth is that ‘Two Eyes’ is a sweet little gem of a record that includes some of the songstress’s best songs. Chief among the highlights on this expanded reissue are ‘It’s Something’ (splendidly revived by Lalah Hathaway in 1990 and again, more recently, with Snarky Puppy, for which she won a Grammy in 2014) and ‘If You Want Love To Find Me.’ ‘Hello People’ – co-written by Russell with Michael McDonald – is another infectious uptempo  number while ‘Jarreau’ is a homage to jazz man, Al Jarreau. Tommy LiPuma’s classy arrangements and high fidelity production values bring a gleam of jazzy sophistication to Russell’s well-wrought material, which blurs the boundary between singer/songwriter pop and R&B.

This expanded edition includes four bonus cuts, three of which are non-album tracks. Michael Franks duets with Russell on the slinky ‘When I Give My Love To You’ – which appeared on Franks’ 1985 album, ‘Skin Dive’ – while ‘This Time (I Need You)’ and ‘Make My Day’ are the A- and B-sides of an exclusive  Swedish-only 45 released the same year (when Russell moved to Stockholm to live during the mid-’80s). The former is a driving, synth-powered, dance cut while the latter is a brittle, machine-tooled piece of electro-pop. Both sound jarringly incongruous placed within the context of the blissful, mellow vibe of ‘Two Eyes,’ though Russell aficionados will be glad that those two tracks are now easily available. Overall, though, they don’t detract from the exquisite nature of ‘Two Eyes,’ an overlooked album that deserves wider appreciation.

(CW) 3/5