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

The Duke and the King: Nothing Good Can Stay (Shock)

The Duke and the King: Nothing Good Can Stay (Shock)

The singer-songwriter behind this gorgeously tuneful, lyrically probing debut is Simone Felice of the terrific Felice Brothers, two times Best of Elsewhere artists (2007, 2008) for their amalgam of... > Read more

The Green Pajamas: Summer of Lust (Green Monkey)

The Green Pajamas: Summer of Lust (Green Monkey)

Green Pajamas out of Seattle are one of the great, if largely ignored, pysch-pop band (think Rubber Soul/Revolver) and at last they have got around to releasing . . . their debut album?... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

FILM IT AND THEY WILL COME (2014): Movie and television tourism

FILM IT AND THEY WILL COME (2014): Movie and television tourism

Hamad suddenly pulls us aside in the canyon between towering rock faces and says, “See” as he points to a gap in the path ahead. “This is 'Wow', right? Indiana Jones,... > Read more

Sue and Horst's Famous Persimmon Cream Pie

Sue and Horst's Famous Persimmon Cream Pie

When you've got in-laws who have a large persimmon orchard you tend to learn all kinds of things that can be done with the underrated persimmon. My father-in-law Horst slices ripe ones and... > Read more