Sunday, January 17, 2016

Review: Tom Russell, Mesabi.

It was colder than moonlight on a tombstone this afternoon. I didn't mind though. I put the oven on in my kitchen and put my new CD on the music machine and had a nice time drinking wine and listening to some great music. The album is by Tom Russell and is called Mesabi. That was a new word to me so I looked it up and Mesabi refers to a huge range of iron ore deposits in Minnesota USA. That was a surprise  because this album has a very Mexican Tex/ Mex sound to my ears. I came across Tom Russell because a Facebook friend asked if I knew his work. I was in my local music shop ' Raves From The Grave' in Warminster on Friday and I asked if they had any Tom Russell. There was just one album in the Country Music section which was Mesabi. This album isn't country music as I know it though.

                                                        Mesabi is also the title of the opening song which I really like. It has references to Howling Wolf, Buddy Holly and Richie Valens but I think the song is a homage to Bob Dylan. It mentions Duluth and  'Don't Think Twice, It's Alright' and Bethlehem I guess is the Bethlehem Steel Corporation and 'The Troubadour Kid' can be none other than His Bobness. As you know Bob came from Minnesota. The second track is When The Legends Die  which has lots of horse racing links such as Silky Sullivan ridden by Willie The Shoe ( Willie Shoemaker). It also mentions being drunk in the kitchen which I can identify with as I have spent many an hour drinking in the kitchen and playing music. I am very pleased to see that one of my heroes from nearly 50 years ago Van Dyke Parks plays piano on some tracks on this album. I used to love his work with Brian Wilson many moons ago. The third track Farewell Never Never Land  is really nice as well with its lush brass intro. Someone else who I really like, Gretchen Peters features on this song. It is the sad story of Bobby Driscoll who was a famous child actor for Walt Disney. He died in 1968 aged only 31 from drug abuse. I love these songs that tell a story even if the outcome is quite tragic.

                                                                                 The next song is The Lonesome Death Of Ukelele Ike  which features Fats Kaplin on yes, ulelele. The song mentions Hannibal, Missouri which is the hometown of Mark Twain. The next song is Sterling Hayden which recounts the actors sad decline. I think you will realize by now that a lot of the songs are inspired by Hollywood. Tom Russell is obviously a big film buff. The song recounts various episodes in Sterling Hayden's life such as kidnapping his kids and sailing to Tahiti. Another film song follows which is Furious Love,( For Liz). This is a homage to the one and only Elizabeth Taylor and her life at the Plaza Hotel in Juarez. My favourite song after two listens of the album is A Land Called 'Way Out There'. It is a truly epic song which recounts the car crash in which James Dean died. I think Tom might think the driver of the other car Donald Turnipseed was to blame. John Phillip Sousa is mentioned in the lyrics which isn't surprising considering the amount of brass instruments deployed in this song.( Scroll down to listen ) Roll The Credits Johnny is another movie inspired song. I wish I knew who the small blonde leading lady in the tight black jeans was. A Heart Within A Heart is a really nice moving song featuring Regina & Ann McCrary on vocals. And God Created Border Towns is a song co-written with Angie Meyers who also plays piano. It is a sad lament about migrants and American guns fueling drug wars in Mexico.Lots of nice accordian and trumpets on this song. Goodnight Juarez is another sad song on the same theme of a beautiful tourist town ruined by violence. Jai Alai  is a song about a sport like Pelota and probably originates in the Basque country of Spain or somewhere like that. I have never heard of it before and am guessing from the lyrics.Anyway, it was recorded in El Paso which is where I think Tom Russell lives these days and there is some really nice flamenco guitar on this song. Love Abides is just Tom on his own on vocal and guitar and is a really nice song. Bob Dylan's A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall is a fabulous duet with the one and only Lucinda Williams. Finally The Road To Nowhere is a song from the film of the same name directed by Monte Hellman and is a great song to end this wonderful album.

                                                                                       I must say I spent a very nice afternoon listening to this album so thank you very much Mike Pearce for the heads up about Tom Russell. I will certainly look out for more of his albums in the future.