The Bottom Line: They (Bering Strait) have the heart, but it continues to beat askew; I did not like Pages overly much.
I thought I knew what Bering Strait, the Russian-born and cultivated quintet that has been trying to make their mark on the Nashville scene in recent years, was all about. They were a group of young musicians heavily influenced by American Country & Western (C&W) and Bluegrass. But if their latest release, Pages, is an example of that, I rarely heard with the often eclectic tracks of the CD.
Sure there was a measure of the genre(s) mixed in to the rambling brew that is Pages, but on this CD Bering Strait tried to be too many things to too many people. The result is a mishmash of competing sounds with no center and like their first self-titled offering, no soul. This despite the fact that Pages was produced by C&W/Bluegrass legend Carl Jackson, who had a little help from Bluegrass prodigy who wrote and produced the albums rather lengthy instrumental From Ankara To Izmir. Despite this "A" list production assist Pages still falls short of the mark, and I am still left with the feeling like I have yet to hear the real Bering Strait.
The Bering Strait (vocal) sound is built almost entirely around the lead vocals of the groups two females: Natasha Borzilova and Lydia Salnikova. The former took more of the lead on the groups first CD, so on Pages it was regrettably Lydias turn. I say regrettably because it is obvious that Lydias talent does not include singing lead, she has no range, and throughout the Pages, her voice is strained and off-key; I was almost embarrassed for her as I listened to her trying to master material that Natasha would have handled with ease. It reminded of Shania Twains last album; my God she sounded awful, and someone should have told her so. The first and last tracks of the CD, Safe in My Lovers Arms and It Hurts Just a Little (written by Brent Maher and co-written by band member Sasha Ostrovsky), are prime examples of Lydias lack of vocal acumen; it hurt a lot to listen to her trying to master the material.
And to add insult to injury, the band has no vocal harmonizing skills whatsoever! This is never so evident, so in your face than on track No. 7, You Make Lovin Fun, a very badly done remake of the classic Fleetwood Mac tune from their monumental album Rumors. Although Natasha Borzilova took the lead on this number, she never quite mastered the songs deep undercurrent of emotion, and the group absolutely butchered the vocal harmonies that make the Fleetwood Mac rendition such a timeless classic.
But all is not doom, gloom and bad music within the musical folds of Pages, there are some bring spots, admittedly few and far between, but they are there. The aforementioned instrumental track From Ankara To Izmir is a long (6:56) rambling piece that showcases the groups instrumental prowess. It is here that Bering Strait shines rather brightly, for they are all accomplished classically trained musicians. The piece does ramble at times, but it does so with a purpose, which is to showcase the individual instrumental talents of the members of the group, and they all play at least one instruments, some play two or more. Shining brightly too is the title track from the CD, Pages, sung capably by Natasha Borzilova. It is a beautiful number that reminiscent of the best of C&W.
Also this time out we get to hear more original scores by members of Bering Strait, and we are treated to a few tracks in Russian, including track No. 2 Oy, Moroz-Moroz, a rather delightful folk song; although I didnt understand a word, I enjoyed it nonetheless.
In due course, with the addition of the jazzy instrumental What's for Dinner,Pages is an album that offers a little something for everybody, and therein lies the problem. Stylistically Pages is hard to pin down, the album does know what it wants to be; is it a folk, is it C&W, is it Bluegrass, is it Pop, or Jazz? Perhaps that is left up to the listener to decide, and I have decided that the overall effect is disconcerting and less then enjoyable.
Bering Strait is:
Natasha Borzilova lead singer, acoustic guitar; Ilya Tashinsky, lead electric guitar, banjo, background vocals; Alexander Sasha Ostrovsky dobro, lap steel, and steel guitar; Lydia Slanikova piano, keyboards, lead/background vocals; Sergei Spooky Olkhovsky, bass; Alexander Arzamastsev, drums.
1. Safe in My Lovers Arms 2. Oy, Moroz-Moroz 3. From Ankara To Izmir 4. Long Time Comin 5. Just Imagine 6. Pages 7. You Make Lovin Fun 8. Cruel Man 9. Whats For Dinner? 10. Choose Your Partner 11. It Hurts Just a Little