wed 08/07/2020

CD: Tom Russell - Folk Hotel | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Tom Russell - Folk Hotel

CD: Tom Russell - Folk Hotel

Heading into his eight decade, the veteran US songwriter remains on top of his game

Close your eyes and be transported. Not just to Greenwich Village, New York and America’s west, but to Copenhagen, Belfast and Swansea, from whence Dylan Thomas – dedicatee of “The Sparrow of Swansea” – set out on his adventures. The album was recorded in Austin, Texas, and the spirit and the sound of such country music greats as Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins and Roy Orbison permeate the music.

Russell is an architect of “Americana” and his mighty fistful of albums includes a series of folk operas, including the much-lauded Rose of Roscrae. His songs have been recorded by Cash, Doug Sahm and Nanci Griffith, among others, and then there’s his prose and his art, some of which adorns Folk Hotel. Russell is a genuine polymath who can indeed stand tall “in boots that have walked 10,000 miles”.

His sleeve note is brief: “My mind is an old folk hotel in the Village, haunted by troubadour ghosts who sang songs that will never escape my soul.” Nor should they, for those ghosts made music which will forever endure. The cover painting suggests the streets around Washington Square, the beating heart of the folk scene long before Bob Dylan hit town. The Hotel to which he refers could easily be the old Earle, where Dylan and Joan Baez and many of their confrères (whose presence you sense in these songs) lived and where Dylan Thomas stayed when he wasn’t at the Chelsea. A Russell painting of the latter adorns the CD.

No matter the style (traditional folk here, a touch of mariachi there, a cowboy song, talking blues) or the subject, Russell inhabits every track, his sometimes world-weary voice masterfully accompanied by guitar, the verses occasionally punctuated by harmonica. He’s both storyteller and guide, leading us down the foggy ruins of time in the company of such figures as James Joyce, Joseph Mitchell, JFK, Hank Williams and Ian Tyson in songs replete with literary and historical allusion. His ballad for Dylan Thomas is poignant indeed and the imagery of “All on a Belfast Morning” raises a smile: “Spanish Frankie with his ironmonger’s nose”, the cat “licking at her whiskers in a puddle”. “

The CD includes two bonus tracks: a cover of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”, gentler and more empathetic than the Bob Dylan original, on which Russell trades verses with Joe Ely, and “Scars on His Ankles”, a tribute to the great Lightnin’ Hopkins.

Buy Folk Hotel and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, dim the lights and settle into a comfy chair. It’s all the company you need.

Overleaf: Eight minute film in which Tom Russell talks about his Folk Hotel album

He’s both storyteller and guide, leading us down the foggy ruins of time in the company of such figures as James Joyce, Joseph Mitchell, JFK, and Hank Williams


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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