Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Russ Taff - Standing Here - Part 2

  • Updated Feb 01, 2002
Russ Taff - Standing Here - Part 2


{{Russ Taff}} would usher in the 1990s with Under Their Influence, an album of traditional gospel songs that many Christian industry pundits labeled "commercial suicide." "That record wasn't made for the market," Taff counters. "My mother was suffering from Lupus. She was having a bad time and asked me to put some of the old gospel songs down on tape. We did it in James' basement on a 16-track deck that never did work right. It's the only record I've made that's not for anybody but my mom and me. Until this day, I still do 'Ain't No Grave.' I was so tickled that the song was put on ==The Apostle== soundtrack and that the soundtrack won a Grammy (in 1998, for Best Southern, Country, Or Bluegrass Gospel Album.) As long as I'm following my heart and following 'the anointing' as my dad would always say, I'm confident that even if it doesn't sell, I've done the right thing."

The loyalty of Taff's fans would stand him in good stead during what one might call "the wilderness years." In 1992, he released ==A Christmas Song==, an album that garnered Taff a good deal of exposure in the mainstream market. A "Best of" project followed in 1994 (==We Will Stand==), and from 1995 until 1997, Taff basically recorded three albums for the country market, only one of which would get released. "We actually cut all the songs you hear on Winds of Change (Taff's 1995 album for Reprise/Warner Alliance) and then some - twice," confirms Hollihan. "The people at Warners liked the demos for Winds of Change so much, they asked us to record them again," Hollihan says dryly. "Then the follow-up album got shelved when the future of Warner Alliance became uncertain."

In the wake of his father's death, Taff began to explore the idea of making a new album. Two songs in particular on ==Right Here, Right Now== - "Cry For Mercy" and "Long Hard Road" - deal with Taff's conflicted relationship with his father, the Rev. Joseph Taff, who died in 1997. Rev. Taff, by all accounts, did not always look favorably on his son's musical or career choices. When Russ learned that his father was dying, the two began making more concerted efforts to resolve their differences. Just one day before Russ was scheduled to fly to his father's bedside; the elder Taff passed away. "Tori had already written the lyric to 'Cry for Mercy.' We got back from Dad's funeral and I was so depressed, asking God 'Why did it have to end like this? Why couldn't we have settled some things? Why am I going to have to live the rest of my life wondering things?' Tori just said, 'It's not over. You'll see him again in glory.' So 'Long Hard Road' came later, out of that discussion. It did bring me some resolve, but one day I'll sit down with dad and we'll finish things."

More than any of his previous albums, ==Right Here, Right Now== is characterized by Taff tapping into a fresh well-spring of emotion and honesty; in fact, Taff's soul is so transparent on this album that some tracks are almost uncomfortable to listen to. "Going into this, I wanted to be very vulnerable and honest. One of the first vocals I did was 'Cry For Mercy.' All the things I say at the end of the song, about my parents and my brothers, just happened on the spot in the studio. I got home and played it for Tori and she said, 'Do you want to be that vulnerable?' And I said 'I don't know what else to do. My heart's ripped open over Dad and I know there's other people out there that have lost people.' There's just that desperation in your voice, saying 'God save me again.'"

Besides contributions from the ubiquitous James Hollihan, Jr. and Tori Taff (who Russ calls "my favorite lyricist"), ==Right Here, Right Now== contains major songwriting assistance from Marcus Hummon. Hummon, who's a well-known country writer (he's penned hits for folks such as Tim McGraw, Wynonna and Dixie Chicks), became acquainted with Taff about four years ago. "He and his wife and two boys moved in across the street from us," Russ relates. "Our kids started playing, and as kids will, dragged their parents together to meet each other. We started talking and getting to know each other. We grabbed our guitars and started playing together just for fun, and songs started rolling. He is one of the most talented writers I've ever been around. He can get inside you and pull ideas out. He's a real visionary."

In fact, Hummon wrote or co-wrote eight of the album's ten tracks, including as grand a finale as you're likely to hear on any Christian record this year, "Shadow of the Cross." Hollihan crafted the moving arrangement, which incorporates choral and classical elements in a ten-and-half minute epic. "I wish you could have heard Russ' demo," says Hollihan. "It was just a little lullaby he'd written with Marcus. But he loves putting intros on songs, so he asked me to compose an instrumental piece to set up the song. Suddenly, two days later, I've got 4-1/2 minutes worth of music and we're booking an orchestra. It became like the soundtrack to "Ben-Hur" or something!"

On October 7, Taff will embark on a 25-city tour with {{4HIM}} and {{Wayne Watson}}. But before that, there's the requisite promotional tour. Taff admits that was not one of his favorite chores in the past but says he's looking forward to it now. "Being at home a long time and being rested, I'm having a ball. I'm so glad I stopped, because I'm enjoying it so much now. I feel good. I feel like God has given me a clear direction. I feel like I'm locked up with Him. Everywhere I'm going I've got a grin on my face."

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