Tom Russell - October In The Railroad Earth
Proper Music PRPCD155
Gravel-voiced Tom Russell is an unrepentant old-time singer-songwriter who likes his music gritty. A hands-on troubadour with a voice of reason digging deep into a rich musical soil of
uncompromising yet kind-eyed songs, his music is as American as the last dirt road you travelled, rippling with the sinewy groove of worked muscles. As a modern folksinger he evokes a respect for stories of human struggle and timeless themes of love, death, and man’s relationship with the earth. His records have always been conceptual or intentionally cohesive and so it is with OCTOBER IN THE RAILROAD EARTH as he delivers yarns and characterisations of people and places that are intricately linked by the vast soul and spirit of the American landscape.
October In the Railroad Earth accomplishes exactly what you'd want out of an album opener, grabbing your attention with its insistent train rhythm, fancy steel guitar and Bill Kirchen’s chicken-pickin’ guitar licks. It's a standout amongst many on the album and a great way to kick things off. In Small Engine Repair, Tom reflects on the life of an odd-job man who has lived life to the full, with few regrets, and stacks of hard-work satisfaction. More reflections surface in T-Bone Steak And Spanish Wine with fond memories of his earlier days as a little-known troubadour. Then he punches it up with Isadore Gonzalez, a Tex-Mex flavoured true story of a Mexican cowboy who toured the world with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in the 1880s, died in a horse accident in England and lies at rest in an unmarked grave in Bristol.
That’s just the first four tracks, and there’s plenty more compelling yarns to savour on this superlative album, including battling modern-day rustlers in the witty Pass Me The Gun, Billy and the desolate Back Streets of Love, a worried ode full of fear. self-doubt and hopelessness. Highway 46 is a road song with a difference, being a string of memories of California’s once rich country music scene peopled by the likes of Merle, Buck and Wynn (Stewart) and even further back to the tragic Spade Cooley. With echoes of Alan Jackson’s Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) and Merle Haggard’s I Wonder If They Ever Think Of Me coming to mind, this a heartfelt song that instantly resonated with me.
The affection and knowledge for his craft amassed over the years are truly tangible and course through each and every track of OCTOBER IN THE RAILROAD EARTH. Tom Russell has the ear of a troubadour, the eye of a journalist and the heart of a poet. This is what Americana is supposed to sound like. A work of art created by an underrated genius, a record that deserves to walk away with several Grammys in 2020 and should be forced listening for all the Nashville music executives, still stumbling around in the dark looking for the next big thing.