We were way overdue to see one of my top musicians, Tom Russell, and we heard he’d be at Club Passim for the first stop of the tour to promote his new record. The record (The Rose of Roscrae) came out a few weeks before the concert and is fantastic. It’s an Irish-western-traditional-
modern folk opera on two CDs that has everyone in the world singing on it, in all different styles … exactly what you’d expect from the great Tom Russell at this stage of his career, but better!
We met at On the Border as always on Wednesday April 29th, and then trickled across the street to Passim in time for a nice dinner from their new menu. Cousin Kate was there, as was Dave Palmatier, who had interviewed Tom on WUMB that afternoon, but it was not a full house. Tom was accompanied by Thad Beckman, and came out wearing all black (including his cowboy hat) and a white scarf. The hat and scarf soon were discarded and Tom and Thad ripped it up seriously.
After opening with a bit of Carrick Fergus to set the stage, they dove into Hair Trigger Heart and had the audience singing along raucously very soon. Tom has a way of rambling and had a lot of explaining to do, to set the songs for the audience who weren't already familiar with the opera (I’d read the libretto so knew it very well, and heard that afternoon's interview).
In the first set Tom covered all the strong tracks you'd expect him to cover from the record, including Johnny Behind-the-Deuce, I Talk to God, He wasn't a Bad Kid, and Tularosa. He also did what I consider the best song on the record, the Ian Tyson co-write When the Wolves No Longer Sing. We were at table 10 and so could be easily seen from the stage and Tom seemed to know that I knew that he was going to sing Wolves, This was his first introduction to The Committee (except for 8 years ago of course). He and Thad closed with a bang with Tonight We Ride.
Kind of a "what you'd expect" concert so far, though what you expect from Tom is supreme excellence. But they came out for the second set and broke the mold with a vengeance. Tom started off with a bit of Ragland Road (as he had with Carrick Fergus last set), but then left the new record behind and delved into the last phase of his career with St. Olav's Gate (ok, three phases ago), East of Woodstock West of Vietnam, the amazing, amazing Guadalupe, Nina Simone, and Stealing Electricity. He also had Thad do a track from his most recent record.
OK, time for the greatest hits part of the show. Tom was as talkative as ever; he did Navajo Rug with all the "ai-ai-ais" you could handle and then gave Blue Wing an extended introduction, including mentioning that it had won "best Tom Russell song ever." I shouted out that I'd voted for Bowl Of Red (I actually went for Blue Wing too of course, it's possibly the best song ever written), and he laughed and said that he wrote that back in the 40s! He asked for a closer and someone came up with the wonderful suggestion of Let the Credits Roll, which he played extremely well.
I talked with Tom after the show and related the story of The Committee. I remembered it as 4-5 years ago but when I got home I realized it was more like eight years ago! Another wonderful night with one of the best musicians around, and I hope he has great luck on this and future tours, and with his new record.