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Music City by the Sea - Tom Russell

Michael Martin on mandolin

Michael Martin
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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