Tom Russell: Blood And Candle Smoke

By  Lee Zimmerman

With the passing of the late John Stewart, it’s been left to Tom Russell and Dave Alvin to carry the torch held by America’s most affecting troubadours, those who echo the richness and beauty of the heartland with a stirring, soulful sound of innate authenticity.

Russell’s latest effort, like every one that it’s succeeded, conveys wonder, heartbreak and vulnerability with a compelling set of songs that taps into those emotions and sends the spirit soaring.

Russell’s talent is such that he can reprise a verse of “Old Man River,” summon a muted trumpet solo and infuse the imagery of Mississippi backwaters all within the expanse of a single song (“Mississippi River Runnin’ Backwards”). However, every track is equally mesmerizing, and these tales of losers, dreamers and journeymen offer a sweeping panorama of unbridled outlands and exotic destinations that are as isolated as they are alluring.

The wayward Indian teenagers of “Crosses of San Carlo” and the wandering educator of “Criminology” are bound together in a quest for adventure and shunning of convention, carrying the listener along via Russell’s rugged, whiskey-infused vocals and a gift for descriptive, picturesque verse. A true American treasure, Russell’s work ought to be revered.

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