By Tom Russell. (Shout Factory LLC, 2009. 2042-A Armacost Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90025) CD $15.99 www.tomrussell.com
I have to smile with Tom Russell’s recent journey away from sure ballad-making with his new CD “Blood and Candle Smoke” on the Shout Factory label. This introspective collection of twelve tracks is perhaps more like orchestrated poetry, certainly more subdued and cryptic than any of his twenty albums since the 70s. All of these tracks are the caliber of songs that will grow on you, becoming richer with each successive listening. And that is the test at this juncture, I think, not whether a Nashville hook line will sell a million copies in six months.
Perhaps I misjudge the music buying public, but Tom may lose a fan or two with this one, yet I’m quite pleased that he continues to explore thought-provoking territory where he will gain even more diverse fans over time, a natural evolution that begs the question, “Do we in our 60s have something (left) to impart, something to leave behind?”
This personal excursion is not light listening, boys (and girls), each track full of pregnant and relevant phrases, expertly and consistently mixed and recorded to enhance the subject matter of each that range from the love song “Finding You” to the more prophetic “Mississippi River Running Backwards” – truly a complete work of art. I enjoyed every single song, especially “Nina Simone”, “Guadalupe”, “Crosses of San Carlos” and “East of Woodstock, West of Viet Nam”.
Because there are some rich lines here that really need to be reread and savored, the liner notes and lyrics are deftly placed inside the CD cover. Though fresh and contemporary, all of the uniqueness of Tom Russell’s singing and songwriting style is embodied in this superb collection of songs, a distilled concentrate that should endure for a long time.