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Tom Russell Tom Russell
Album: Folk Hotel
Label: Proper
Tracks: 14

The term “Renaissance Man” is often misused but in the case of Thomas George “Tom” Russell it is entirely justified. Not only is he a brilliant and prolific songwriter , having recorded twenty seven studio albums in forty years , but he is also a renowned novelist and artist [his artwork adorns the cover of this album]. Tom’s 2015 album “Rose of Roscrae” was rightly named as Mojo Magazine’s Folk Album of the Year.

“Folk Hotel” is Tom’s second album of 2017,the first being “Play One More:The Songs of Ian and Sylvia” , a tribute to the legendary Canadian duo Ian and Sylvia Tyson. No one can accuse Tom Russell of being a slacker!

Whilst Tom’s albums are uniformly excellent, my particular favourites are “Hotwalker” [2005] and “Mesabi” [2011] but “Folk Hotel” is now hot on their heels.

On “Folk Hotel” Tom keeps it simple, mainly just acoustic guitar and vocals, with occasional touches of Tex Mex accordion , electric guitar and harmonica. This is fine because Tom’s songs speak for themselves, he is a storyteller par excellence.

As ever with Tom his songs cover an incredible range of subject matter.Here we have songs about New York’s [in]famous Chelsea Hotel ; a meeting with John F.Kennedy ; the life of Dylan Thomas “The Sparrow of Swansea” ; Ian Tyson refusing to “leave these old horses”; a dream in which he meets Hank Williams and a talking blues about a chance encounter with a man who rowed from the Faroe Islands to Copenhagen. Phew!

On a more personal note is a [presumably] autobiographical account about the “swansong of an old time troubadour” called “The Light Beyond The Coyote Fence” in which Tom perfectly encapsulates the life a travelling musician and his yearning for home and “the refuge from the road”. Great stuff.

There are two superb “Bonus Tracks”, firstly a duet with Joe Ely on Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”, which has a real Tex Mex flavour courtesy of Joel Guzman’s accordion which is followed by the extraordinary “Scars On His Ankles”, a nine minute Country Blues epic about “Lightnin’ Hopkins” who had scars on his ankles where the chain from the chain gang cut his skin. Tom is on absolutely top form on this brilliant tale of how Grover Lewis sought out Hopkins and became his drinking buddy.

“Folk Hotel” is yet another superb album from Tom Russell. If you know his music already, you won’t be disappointed by this latest offering. If you don’t know Tom’s music,this is as good a place as any to start.

Peter Cowley