30th July 2006
The John Steinbeck of Song
Russell has been around a long time; he's turned
56 or is it 59? But I discovered him only a few years ago. I was
waiting for my wife in Borders. She was late (not unusual), and I
passed the time sampling CDs around the store. It was then I came
across Borderland. What a wonderful find that was, and what a great
album it is.
America, said the historian, Simon Schama, is a
democracy ruled by a plutocracy, and Russell is on the side of the
democracy. He's been called the John Steinbeck of country song, which
is quite a fitting tribute. He has a great narrative sensibility
which he has applied to the idiom of country music, folk, cowboy,
americana - call it what you will - and he's given it a depth of
feeling and a richness of meaning that you don't usually expect to
find. Whereas Dylan passed through the folk and country scene, Russell
is still there working and reworking the genre.
Russell has released about 20 albums and published
several books, and his songs have been recorded by some of the big
names in country music. Russell's music explores the experience of
ordinary men and women - blue coller America - but he himself
holds a post-graduate degree from the University of California. What
took him into the music business I've yet to find out.
Russell is usually accompanied by his lead guitarist,
Andrew Hardin, who has also co-produced a number of Russell's albums.
Hardin is a brilliant guitarist and gives Russell a sort of country
wall-of-sound backing interspersed with some virtuoso solo instrumentals.
Together they are a joy to listen to.
However, because of illness Hardin was not on tour
this time, and his place was taken by the very talented Michael Martin,
who plays guitar and mandolin. His mandolin playing in particular
enthralled the audience.
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