Album Reviews

Tom Russell

Gunpowder Sunsets: The Tom Russell Anthology 2

Artist:     Tom Russell

Album:     Gunpowder Sunsets: The Tom Russell Anthology 2

Label:     Frontera

Release Date:     04/26/2016

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As a long-term admirer of Tom Russell’s songs, let me suggest that this collection will satisfy both those newcomers and devoted fans alike. The 19 tracks, many of which have never been released, combined with the best tunes from two brilliant albums, Blood and Candle Smoke and Rose of Roscrae, among others, showcase one of America’s best and vastly under-appreciated songwriters. Russell put this together himself, representing his favorite work over the last 15 years, sprinkling in demos, alternate versions, and live tracks.

The first track, “Honky Tonk Heart (Like Mine)” (co-penned with the late Carl Brouse), was unearthed from a treasure trove of eight bins and trunks full of demos, hundreds of hours of music, that Tom and his staff are mining. Here a home studio band is featured and the tune was later covered by K.D. Lang. The version of “Spanish Burgundy” is an alternate take. The two live tracks are from Aztec Jazz, recorded with the Norwegian Wind Ensemble. Russell once said that one of these, “Guadalupe”, was the best song he ever wrote. Here he renders it as a mournful gospel hymn, slowed down and with some different inflections than the studio version.

Given the length of Russell’s almost 3 hour Rose of Roscrae, it’s difficult to imagine he had anything left over, but he presents two unreleased tracks – “Iron Eyes Cody” and “Where Do All the Cowboys Go?” (duet with Eliza Gilkyson). He also presents the best song from that work, the title track with its resilient chorus, “I can see the map of Ireland….. as I walked from Roscrae to Tippermore,”

Russell has made a career of singing duets with some of best female singers of our time including Nanci Griffith, Shawn Colvin, Gretchen Peters, Eliza Gilkyson and Iris DeMent (featured here on “Love Abides”). Russell has a more widely encompassing view than most songsmiths because he is well steeped in literature, history and art. He has a unique ability to marry the personal with the historical and his unpretentious stance often gives the listener the impression that he has somehow lived through most of his songs regardless of locale. You can purchase Gunpowder Sunsets: The Tom Russell Anthology 2 and anything in Russell’s impressive catalog by visiting www.fronterarecords.com.

– Jim Hynes

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