Tom Russell Performs His Ballad of the West
I am surprised that I was not familiar with Tom Russell prior to his shows at Club Passim last week. He is a masterful storyteller who blends elements of folk, country, rock, and Americana (which he explained includes all the countries that comprise the Americas – in particular, Canada and Mexico).
He is currently touring in support of his latest release, The Rose of Roscrae: A Ballad of the West. This, his 32nd album (if I counted correctly), is a two-CD set containing 52 songs and is the final installment of a trilogy begun in 1999 with The Man from God Knows Where. There is an excellent review of this album on No Depression published by Folk Villager which is well worth reading.
Tom has a lovely voice (possibly a tenor) that reminded me at times of the fabulous tenor Colm Wilkinson (who wowed Broadway audiences in the original production of Les Miserables). His voice is deep and rich, and is perfectly suited to his songs which evoke images of the Wild West in the 1800s.
Some of the songs had some Celtic riffs, which are apparently a nod to Tom’s Irish heritage.
Tom performed with Thad Beckman who supported him on electric guitar and backing vocals. I did not know Thad before this show, but I am glad I was introduced to him. I think he is a terrific guitarist who I hope to see again performing his own music. During the second set, Thad performed one of the songs of his new album, Street of Disaster, with Tom on backing vocals and guitar.
The first set consisted mostly of songs from the new album, but the second set consisted of many old favorites (of people in the sold-out audience who know his music). Some of these were ‘Guadalupe’, ‘East of Woodstock, West of Vietnam’, and ‘Stealing Electricity’. Tom performed that last song on the David Letterman Show. He also asked for requests, which yielded such crowd favorites as ‘Blue Wing’, ‘Roll the Credits’, and ‘Navajo Rug’, which was the first song Tom wrote with the great Ian Tyson.
I would love to see Tom perform this album in its entirety. Then again, maybe not since that would mean he would not be singing songs from the depth of his career.
I wish I had seen Tom’s show the following evening because Barrence Whitfield, an R&B/soul singer with an amazing voice, sang with him! I learned that Tom and Barrence released two albums together about twenty years ago, so it was not unexpected that Barrence would make an appearance!
Next time Tom is in the area, I plan to see all his shows!