Nashville has long been abuzz about Bering Strait, six classically trained Russian musicians who play country and bluegrass music as if they grew up in Omaha, not Obninsk. But after four years and five record labels with no record released, do Bering Strait live up to the hype? Well, there’s no question about their chops. The album’s one instrumental, the Grammy-nominated “Bearing Straight,” proves it in a Béla Fleck fusion sort of way. Yet mostly this debut aims for the solidly mainstream target audience, in songs about love, sensuality, and romance, whether shattered or shared. Lead vocalist Natasha Borzilova delivers poised and nuanced readings, and almost all the songs were written by bankable Nashville tunesmiths, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Mary Ann Kennedy, and Pam Rose among them. The only hints that these kids hail from somewhere outside the WSM listening area come from brief, spoken dialogue and a traditional Russian folk song (“Porushka-Paranya”). What’s missing is a little more personality, a few more original tunes (the best, “Only This Love,” finds band member Ilya Toshinsky at the head of the credits), and a lot more of that aforementioned hot picking.
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