Tom Russell: Mesabi (Proper)

 |   |  <1 min read

Tom Russell: Sterling Hayden
Tom Russell: Mesabi (Proper)

Although American singer-songwriter Tom Russell's name isn't as widely known as that of Joe Ely, Townes Van Zandt and others, his songs have been covered by Johnny Cash, Peter Case, Iris DeMent and many more, and his story-telling tied to a backbeat has consistently drawn praise from critics and peers.

Jerry Jeff Walker, poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Eliza Gilkyson and others appeared on a tribute album four years ago, and here Lucinda Williams and Calexico join him on an earnestly slow, nine minute and somewhat dreary cover of Dylan's Hard Rain's Gonna Fall.

A cinematic writer who paints word pictures and populates his songs with real people, Russell here alludes to the young Dylan in Duluth listening to Howlin' Wolf and Buddy Holly and leaving suburban expectation behind, tough guy Fifties character actor Sterling Haden drunk in Amsterdam, Liz Taylor chasing “furious love”, James Dean killed on the highway . . .

But something doesn't always gel this time.

Many songs are weighed down by narratives with too many lyrics and ride very ordinary melodies, and his characters and stories are frequently stretched into ciphers, metaphors and symbols of the soul of a broken America.

There is little here Russell hasn't explored before and better, and the literariness sinks some of these songs rather than elevating them as been the case previously.

Uneven and, given the high standard Russell has always set, therefore disappointing.

Like the idea of this? Then try this.

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Music articles index

Freakwater: Scheherazade (Bloodshot/Southbound)

Freakwater: Scheherazade (Bloodshot/Southbound)

That looks like a pretty ordinary motel room on the cover, and in the first song -- a fiddle-dragged dark and disturbing piece entitled What the People Want -- is the story of a rural rape and then... > Read more

Cher: Closer to The Truth (Warners)

Cher: Closer to The Truth (Warners)

The prices Cherilyn Sarkisian paid on her way to becoming the iconic figure she is today were recounted in stark and moving detail in J. Randy Taraborrelli's biography Cher of '89. At the end... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

GUEST WRITER JAMES BLICK considers the art, craft and pitfalls of travel writing

GUEST WRITER JAMES BLICK considers the art, craft and pitfalls of travel writing

“White sand? Tick. Turquoise sea? Tick. Sunset cocktails? Yep.” That was the opening line of a travel newsletter that dropped into my inbox the other day. I... > Read more

RUNNIN' DOWN A DREAM, a doco by PETER BOGDANOVICH (DVD, 2008)

RUNNIN' DOWN A DREAM, a doco by PETER BOGDANOVICH (DVD, 2008)

The American actor/director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon etc and Dr Melfi's psychotherapist in The Sopranos) seems an unusual figure to be behind this four-hour doco of the... > Read more