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Tom Russell - Mesabi

  by Lisa Torem

published: 10 / 9 / 2011



Tom Russell - Mesabi
Label: Proper Records
Format: CD

intro

Multi-layered and haunting Americana on latest album from gritty-voiced Texan singer-songwriter, Tom Russell


Tom Russell of Los Angeles and El Paso loves to spin yarns about the lone star state. He enjoys the written word in general, though. His degree in criminology most likely prepared him to write a detective novel and he has also written a book of songwriting quotations, Plugging songs in Vancouver strip clubs and driving a taxi in Queens were two gigs that may have inspired his tales, but the latter allowed him to nail down a career. After singing ‘Gallo Del Cielo’ to passenger Robert Hunter of the Grateful Dead, he was invited with his musical partner, Andrew Hardin, to perform at New York City’s Bitter End night club. In the mid 1980s, his self-titled band performed together for a decade, releasing four albums on the Philo label. ‘The Man from God Knows Where’ was the folk opera Russell wrote in the late 1990s, and, in 2005, he followed it up with 'Hotwalker' inspired by Charles Bukowski. 2006’s 'Love and Fear', 2007’s 'Wounded Heart of America' and 2009’s 'Blood and Candle Smoke' followed. His latest album 'Mesabi' is unsaturated, songwriting ingenuity. Imagine a tray of delicacies displayed before you that are so rich and sumptuous you can’t help but roll up your sleeves, dig in and pick the bones clean. “Whatever happened to Bobby Driscoll? Whatever happened to Peter Pan?” is one query, which Russell investigates. It’s an ode to a child star unfairly treated. ‘Furious Love’ (For Liz) tributes the glam Elizabeth Taylor – “There’s a penthouse on top of the Plaza Hotel” it begins – “She chased furious love through her furious seasons – Tonight in El Paso I’ll raise a double gin fizz for the life and the legend of Liz.” I imagine it’s no accident that ‘Goodnight Juarez' slightly resembles 'Goodnight Irene'. The unmistakable old timey feel is there, just like in that popular standard. “Juarez, you made me sleep tonight/Juarez, you made me weep tonight.” A mariachi arrangement, complete with a striking trumpet solo make the songwriter’s battered, Cash-like voice sound even more coarse and Tom Waitsesque than ever. Brave Russell even takes on Dylan. In ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ he wrings out each familiar phrase with the intensity of a priest on a pulpit. Lucinda Williams responds with an equally brash attack in this duet version, giving this overlooked ballad new life. Granted, it goes on a bit too long, sort of like a eulogy would for a rock icon, but it’s still a fine rendition. ‘Heart within a Heart’ and ‘Love Abides’ are both heartfelt ballads. From the squeaky clean, guitar intro to the sense of hope, the former rings brightly, Another character sketch and more is found in ‘Jai Alai.’ The game serves as a metaphor - Jacob Mossman’s exquisite flamenco guitar work basks in the sunset as la historia unravels. “James Dean died ‘neath the tree of heaven near the old Jack Ranch Café” and “to the hoochie-koochie” dancing girls describe ‘A Land Called Way Out There'. The sprightly, quasi-burlesque romp, ‘The Lonesome Death of Ukulele Ike’ features Barry Walsh’s splendid keyboard chops. Will Kimbrough’s guitar lends unexpected class as well. ‘The Road to Nowhere’ from the 2010 Monte Hellman movie of the same name is a visceral awakening - “Well, the ditches are on fire and there ain’t no higher ground/You were a prince in the City of Angels, kid/Now you’re pawning your clothes in a railroad town.” 'Mesabi' is a wonderous album. Tom Russell’s songs scrape against your senses like horses hooves on a cobbled road. His parched voice chokes on the dust. Whether riding bare back or in a covered wagon, he’ll extricate your inner cowboy.



Track Listing:-
1 Mesabi
2 When The Legends Die
3 Farewell Never Never Land
4 The Lonesome Death of Ukelele Ike
5 Sterling Hayden
6 Furious Love(For Liz)
7 A Land Called "Way Out There"
8 Roll The Credits, Johnny
9 Heart Within a Heart
10 And God Created Border Towns
11 Goodnight, Juarez
12 Jai Alai
13 Love Abides
14 A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
15 The Road To Nowhere


Label Links:-
http://www.proper-records.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/ProperRecords
https://twitter.com/ProperRecords
https://www.youtube.com/user/propertv
http://www.properdistribution.com/
http://instagram.com/properblog



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