Russ Taff – Faroe Islands
Producer: Jakup Zachariassen, Óli Poulsen and Kristoffer Mørkøre
Label: Spring Hill Music Group
After years and years of being a fan of Christian music, sometimes it’s easier to turn to the old stuff than to try something new. I mean, how can we possibly keep coming up with new ways to express the same things? For an artist whose career has remained lauded across decades, the answer was to get away from it all, go to a strikingly-beautiful place to record, and showcase exactly what works: the message and the messenger.
And so, the answer to the “how to make it new again” question may very well lie in Russ Taff’s Faroe Islands. Let me first lay the disclaimer here that I adore Russ and his wife Tori as people (and I adore their daughters and their dogs, too!), but until recently, I was largely unfamiliar with all but his most iconic songs. Having gotten to know his catalogue a little better in the past year, I can with some authority say that Faroe Islands reflects what is absolutely awesome about Russ Taff; and by awesome, I mean powerful, passionate, and personal.
What Russ does is genre-defying and inimitable. He does not just sing a song; he seems to be breathing it in and out. His own connection with the words translates into something tangible for the listener to experience. In the track, “Heaven,” for example, an old lady leaving flowers at a grave, wishing to go “home,” becomes us, or perhaps our mothers, or even our grandmothers, and the idea of “home” stirs us, even as Russ describes it as a place of peace, shamelessness, and equality.
On “I Believe in You,” the resilience of tested faith is put to music. Again, Russ takes a familiar concept – perseverance in the Christian walk – and translates it through sound. It isn’t just the sung words which communicate the idea; it is the “been there” reality, almost like scars, in his voice. (It might be a familiar song, too, as this one is a Bob Dylan cover…)
“Missionary Man” will stop you when you hear it. It’s the haunting voices at the beginning, it’s the backed-off instrumentation throughout the first verse, it’s the cadence-like way the simple but vivid descriptions are communicated. At the end of the song, we’ve been given a look inside the heart and mind of a missionary.
“Go Play In the Sun” is a song filled with the promise of grace and freedom, but again, edged with something unique. There is a parental love stressed in this one, a strong, uplifting, healing love meant to bring freedom to all God’s children. Who couldn’t use a dose of that?
One of my favorite tracks happens to be a cover of one of my favorite songs, Larry Gatlin’s “Help Me.” I didn’t think I could love a cover of it as much as I love Johnny Cash’s, but Russ proved me wrong. I will listen to this one over and over again.
“God’s Love,” with its stunning line, “This world is so loud, millions of voices all fighting to be heard. I’m just a face in the crowd trying to reach You, but I can’t find the words.” This sentiment seems to be a sign of our times, when even Christians struggle to feel worthy, accepted, and important in a world often clouded with discouragement. This track, co-written by Russ and Tori, is a rockin’ reminder that God’s love is like a hurricane, and that He knows us by name. (Amen!)
The instrumentation throughout, ranging from brass to mandolin and steel guitar, is fitted to the songs’ moods (I especially enjoy how it fits together on the lovely “Harvest”). The background vocals serve to complement Russ in places and amp up the mood in others. Also – bonus!- there are 16 tracks, a real treat by today’s typical 10-song-per-CD standard.
But as an overall project, this is more than the sum of its ample parts. What is showcased here is not just a voice, not just the songs, but a true, human communicator, who through the years has nearly-perfected an ability to bring a song to life because he is not afraid to show what it means to his own life. And so, upon listening to it, it becomes a part of our lives, too.
Russ had a great time at this year’s Gaither Fest in beautiful Myrtle Beach, South Carolina! There were so many familiar faces, especially at the annual luncheon get-together. Momma Lloyd, aka “Russ Taff’s No. 1 Fan” was in attendance, and Russ was so happy to see her, he served as her own personal waiter!
This latest review of Russ Taff’s “Faroe Islands” project comes from the UK– check it out:
|Reviewed by Paul Kerslake
All long term Cross Rhythms readers/listeners will recognise the bluesy rasp of Russ, one of Christendom’s most talented veterans. In recent years he has been working with the Gaithers but with this set returns to the edgier, bluesier sounds that made his ‘Medals’ album such a creative tour de force on its release in 1985. ‘Faroe Islands’ is Russ’ 11th solo release and was inspired by and recorded at the very same place. “Here Comes Jesus” is a funky blue eyed soul number with a great guitar riff and superb drums, building to include a magnificent brass section and gospel choir. And that’s just the first track! “Harvest” takes it down a gear, sensitive and again with a magnificent vocal performance. “Heaven” has more funky brass and gospel choir; the supporting cast for this recording are top rate musicians and the producers have captured some excellent performances. This is a very accessible album, full of great songs, catchy tunes and a familiar feeling throughout even though there are only a handful of covers, including “I Believe In You” by Bob Dylan. Highly recommended, I haven’t stopped playing it since I put it on!
September 15, 2011– Russ Taff joined past and present members of the Gaither Vocal Band onstage at the National Quartet Convention in Louisville for a special reunion concert that from all accounts, was the highlight of the week. The 23 song set included Russ leading David Phelps, Marshall Hall and Bill Gaither through a rocking rendition of “New Hope Road,” followed by a poignant solo turn on “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand.”
A private dinner and rehearsal session at the Hyatt Regency Hotel downtown the night before turned into more of a ‘family reunion’ as former members Steve Green, Gary McSpadden, Larnelle Harris, Marshall Hall, John Mohr, Buddy Mullins, Jim Murray and Lee Young laughed together, sang together and thoroughly enjoyed spending time with each other.
Sept. 2, 2011– Russ Taff joined the list of such diverse luminaries as Johnny Cash, President Bill Clinton, Evangelist Rex Humbard, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Dr. James Dobson and Maya Angelou as he was inducted into the Arkansas Walk of Fame on Saturday. The Walk of Fame was established in 1996 to honor persons born or raised in Arkansas who have made a significant contribution in their fields and are recognized nationally for their work. The ceremony was held at the RayLynn Theater in Taff’s hometown of Hot Springs, with the unveiling of the plaque immediately following. Inducted also was veteran Hollywood character actor Brent Jennings, who has appeared in movies with Denzel Washington, Robert Redford, Eddie Murphy and Harrison Ford.
Mayor Ruth Carney presented Russ with a framed proclamation officially declaring September 3rd as “Russ Taff Day.” Taff was joined by friends and family members including Bud and June Smedley who took Russ into their home when he was 17 years old. June, Russ’ former English teacher, spoke movingly at the ceremony of the lifelong bond that formed between them, and recounted a few funny stories about the adjustments required when the fiery son of a Pentecostal preacher joins a family of mild-mannered Methodists.
A personal message from Russ’ friend and mentor Bill Gaither was read, as well as a congratulatory note from fellow Arkansan James Hollihan, who began playing in a band with Russ when they were both still in high school, and went on to become a noted guitarist, writer and producer. Long-time friend Jim Pennington also spoke, as well as Otto Beck. Russ performed two songs, then thanked the participants and the city of Hot Springs, noting tearfully, “This town was good for a young man who had a dream. The encouragement I got from people around me made me. I prayed this morning that maybe one person would pass by this plaque in the ground and be inspired, and it could spark them to follow their dreams, too.”
L to R: Tom Wilkins, owner of RayLynn Theater, Russ Taff, Charlotte Taff, Kim Smedley Masino, June Smedley, Bud Smedley, Carolyn Spillers