The twenty fifth anniversary album release by this legendary group is so much different than anything they have released before. Band leader and guitarist Russ Freeman is still out front, but this one is heavily layered with strings and orchestra through out. As he says on the liner notes “presumably you have gotten over the initial surprise of the first few bars of music of this CD.” Gone are the heavily syncopated, saxophone driven, gems we have grown familiar with. Listen closely and you can still hear the same drive and intensity that has given this band and edge over the past quarter century.
The opening track is actually the title track which was also the first one written for the project. The beautiful orchestral intro gives way to the band as it repeats what has been given in the first few bars. It builds intensity as it moves along. Freeman highlights this one with his Ibanez 335 (which he had not recorded with since the Curves Ahead CD). It grows as each layer becomes more and more complex and finishes on a resounding note. “American Panorama” show cases Freeman in a more acoustic format. There’s a lot going on here with the layers of background, but you hear that driving Ripps’ beat as this one continues along to another sudden ending. The opening of “Fools Gold” is eerily familiar to works found on Sahara as it gives way to a darker, slower, intense song. It’s one of Freeman’s favorites here. The repeating theme in the background serves as a nice backdrop to some intense guitar work. There is an orchestral repeat of the same song at the end of the CD.
“Hotel Deville” picks up the pace a little bit and shows off the keys as well as Freeman on acoustic. He stretches it out a little at the end with his “Nashville roots.” You’re probably hearing radio air play for “Cougars and Gigolos” by now and are familiar with it. Freeman co wrote this one with his wife Yardet as they pay homage to Russ’ early days in Nashville. “Route 66” is one of those songs that you want to listen to with the top down as you drive along this famous stretch of high way. It has a big band feel to it and features Jeff Kashiwa on sax. Freeman says it was one of the most fun to record, and you can see why. All the guys are featured here, and you can almost picture them behind their music stands as they stand for each solo. Take a drive and listen.
One of my favorites has to be “In The Shadow of Giants” as the band stretches it out a little bit. We hear Freeman’s classical early on. This one continues to grow in intensity as the driving back beak pushes it along. The classical gives way to fierce electrical guitar which is a showcase for some of Russ’s best playing on the album. Another favorite is “We Made A New World.” It has a driving beat that showcases the band throughout. The title makes me think that it is a reflection of the past twenty five years of work from these guys who have helped shape this genre into what it is today. Crank it up and hear the super ending. “Monument/Monolith” is heavy with percussion before giving way to a wonderful string intro that segways to Freemans’ guitar. This one while on the dark side ever so slightly, is interesting to the listener as it moves around. The over the top guitar solo from guest Zakk Wylde is a great touch that sends this one to the edge. “Firefly” begins with light orchestration as it leads in to the Ripps taking control. Kashiwa is back on board on soprano as this one closes out the album.
There is a classical reprise to the title track along with four orchestral bonus tracks of previous selections. It reflects Freeman’s work with movie scores over the years and shows just how talented he is. Built To Last will take a lot of Rippington’s fans back a little until they read the background for this groundbreaking project. In doing so, you realize the versatility of what Russ is capable of and you have a greater appreciation of what this band has given us over the past twenty five years. We thank you Russ, along with the seventy five musicians listed on the inner sleeve for some of the finest music ever recorded.