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Oksana Grigorieva – Beautiful Heartache Icon Records iTunes Release Date: July 28 2009
While listening to Oksana Grigorieva’s debut album, Beautiful Heartache, one is gripped by the wide range of emotional textures that mark the collection. The songs are at once personal and affecting, virtuosic and engaging, poetic and direct. With an intimate yet powerfully affecting voice and a maestro’s way with the piano, Grigorieva has written and produced a vast musical universe in which Joni Mitchell mingles with Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky chats with Elton John and Russian folk songs flirt with rock n’ roll.
“Music is liberation,” the personable Grigorieva says. “It's home and it’s safe. No matter what life has thrown at me, be it happiness, difficulty or sadness, I’ve always gone to music.” And for Russian-born Grigorieva, that has sparked a life of musical expression.
These influences and much more have fueled her irrepressible spirit. A former child prodigy who started playing at age 3 and writing at 7, her unique journey brings to full fruition an achievement of elegance and accomplishment on this original album. Since childhood she was instilled with a spark by her music professor parents that has continued to fuel her life as an immigrant in the UK and America, arriving as an artist with passion and vision.
From the moving “Say My Name,” that begins the collection to the closing song of the old-time Russian favorite “Dark Eyes” (Ochi Chernye), Beautiful Heartache is itself a journey as distinctive as the artist. Threading through the work is vivid imagery of flying, masquerades and love as not just a concept, but a living, breathing entity.
''Flying Upside Down” is about the difficult choices we have to make, the paths we take and the brave faces we adopt in order to go on. The song's upbeat, almost pop flavor puts an optimistic perspective on what is essentially sorrow,'' says Grigorieva.
The title song, “Beautiful Heartache,” marries a tale of obsession to a fiery tango (played out dramatically in the video). “Angel” is a tender comfort for her young son. “Back From Russia,” the first song written for the album, jumps from a Tchaikovsky-style piano chording in the intro to a personal, wistful look homeward. In the song “Evening With Daddy,” a woman in a tough situation knows that no matter what is going on in her life, there is one consistent sanctuary, escape through music.
“I wish I was somewhere in Paris, the melancholy character sings, Letting the music take me home.”

The album’s closing track is “Dark Eyes” (Ochi Chernye), the lyrics derive from a Gypsy poem first published in 1883. The melody was written and popularized by Feodor Chaliapin in the 1930’s. For this version Oksana has composed an original piano arrangement to this Russian classic. Produced entirely by Grigorieva, Beautiful Heartache was crafted in a rush of sessions at famed Ocean Way Studios, Henson Studios, Glenwood Studios, at Capitol Records’ historic facility and at her home studio. Writing all of the music except for the standard “Ochi Chernye,” she collaborated on lyrics for some of the songs with multi-Grammy Award-nominee Charlie Midnight (James Brown, Joe Cocker) and with Academy Award-winning actor-director Mel Gibson. In one manic seven-day shoot in Mexico, Gibson directed vibrant videos for four of the songs that add dimension to the colorful performances.
Accompanying her on these sessions is a tight group of top-flight musicians: drummer Matt Chamberlain (Tori Amos, Pearl Jam), bassist Paul Bushnell (Ednaswap, Faith Hill/Tim McGraw), guitarists Lyle Workman (Sting, Beck) and Greg Suran (Jewel, Five for Fighting) and keyboard player Jamie Muhoberac (Seal, John Mayer, the Rolling Stones). Finishing off the seductive sounds are shimmering strings arranged and conducted by David Campbell (Beck, Radiohead, Green Day, Josh Groban, many others). Taken as a whole, the album is a life-statement. She says, “It’s the accumulation of my observations, influences and the many crossroads we arrive at. But in the end inspiration fulfills itself through intense effort. And speaking of hard work, I was fortunate to collaborate with people of such a high caliber of musicianship and artistic ability.”
The road to Beautiful Heartache started for Grigorieva in Russia and the Ukraine. She also excelled at ballet and was recruited by the prestigious Kirov in St. Petersburg for their demanding training program (though her parents decided they didn’t want her moving so far from home). Throughout her development there was a balance of the classical discipline of her conservatory training and exposure to a vast spectrum of music thanks to her parents’ passionate and eclectic tastes.
“It was a mix,” she says. “It was Classical, my father’s embrace of jazz, blues and rock, and my mother, who was unafraid to cross stylistic boundaries.” Early on, Grigorieva showed a flair for evocative melodies and arrangements, ingrained almost subliminally from the common practice in Russia of having top composers scoring films and TV shows – even children’s programs. At a young age she started turning the sound down on the TV and playing her own “scores” on piano, using the instrument as a one-person orchestra. And then in the ‘90s she started hearing western pop artists who pointed the way in the creative marriage of music and images, both in lyrics and visuals.
Her “teachers” in this matter came from the top ranks of pop music: “Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Chrissie Hynde, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush.” Added to this were the blues and soul stars that her father had brought into her life: “Ella, Aretha, Whitney Houston and Dionne Warwick. I heard all of them in Russia and I'm sure I've been subliminally influenced by anything I've ever listened to.''
The evolution of her artistic sensibilities continued after she graduated from university (at age 19), later moving to the U.K. to study at the Royal College and Trinity College. She always supported herself in her chosen sphere of artistic endeavor. She taught piano, music composition and theory, as well as voice to children and adults. She conducted choirs at different schools in Russia, England and the US. She also had a successful commercial and print modeling career in the US and UK., while balancing her duties as a mother.
This continued through a move to New York, where she made inroads as a writer, working at a prolific pace with Midnight and other collaborators. Several demo sessions led to her first break in 2006 when her song “Un Dia Llegara” produced a hit for Josh Groban on his album ''Awake.'' This recording led to contract offers from various record companies. At that time Actor/Director Mel Gibson heard her perform and was astounded by her skillful mastery of the keyboard, saying, “My jaw dropped as I watched her perform Chopin and Rachmaninoff effortlessly.”
Soon Gibson’s Icon Entertainment stepped forward with a deal and work started on what would become Beautiful Heartache. Making the album proved a rewarding and at times intense learning experience. In a baptism of fire, not only writing and performing the songs, but also producing the album, she found herself in uncharted waters. The hard work has given Grigorieva a very simple satisfaction in her achievement and, yes, sanctuary. “I was able to explore and create freely, which is a rare gift for a new artist and I feel very privileged,” she says, “And in the end I made the album I wanted to make.”

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