So with the lights low at the Jammin’ Java in Vienna Virginia on Sunday night the announcement came “Ladies and Gentlemen, Tom Russell” and one of my heroes Tom Russell took the stage, with lead guitarist Thad Beckman, and thoroughly entertained me for the next two plus hours! The show opened with Tom telling abbout his trip to Duluth Minnesota and then to Hibbing birthplace and home of Bob Dylan and then the Mesabi Range. From his notes Russell describes his trip like this:
In the dead of winter Duluth is a bastion of weird old immigrant America. Freezing waves pounding the shoreline. Rusted freighters sulking out on the black ice. Raw, hard country. Beer tastes different in winter. Like yellow blood tingling with Slavic iron shards. It’s a long way from New York City, Los Angeles, Nashville and the rest of it.
Then after a brief cover of “Don’t Think Twice” he opened the show with the title track off his new album Mesabi. After “Mesabi” in which Russell sings about Dylan’s early years in Minnesota and Russell’s in LA, Russell said he would sing a positive song before moving into the heavy stuff . He sang “Heart with a Heart”. Then he moved into the heavy stuff starting with “Farewell Never, Never Land”. When I first heard this song about the life and death of one of Disney’s first child stars I immediately went to Wikipedia and read about Driscoll and it was all there . From there Russell jumped into “Sterling Hayden” about the great character actor, author and how he ratted people out during the McCarthy hearings.
Russell then explained how he needed an arc to go from writing about heroes to songs about Mexico and that arc became a short song about the death of Liz Taylor “Furious Love (for Liz).” Before the song, he explained that his and Liz’s lives had crossed over the last few years as his wife’s family lived in an apartment once occupied by Richard Burton and how at night you can smell the gin eminating from the walls! After the arc song he went into songs about Mexico “And God Created Bordetowns” and “Good-night Juarez”. He also included “Guadaloupe” from Blood and Candle Smoke. “Stealing Electricity” from Love and Fear ended the first set.
After a short break Russell came back with “The Road to Nowhere” the title track from the movie “Road to Nowhere,” from the director of “Two-Lane Blacktop” Monte Hellman. Russel then described a new word his Swiss wife has learned “Royalties” which led into “Roll the Credits, Johnny” a song which Hellman used at the end of the movie when the credits were rolling!
All during the show Thad Beckman’s guitar playing was on display but he really got to show his flamenco stuff on the song “Jai Lai”. Next up wsa “Blue Wing” one of my favorites and Beckman got to do some lead singing as he exchanged verses with Tom. This segued into “He was a Friend of Mine” and a story about Dave Van Ronk and the New York Folk scene of the 60’s oh to be a fly on that wall with Russell, Ochs, Paxton and Van Ronk. During this rap Beckman again displayed his guitar prowess with some Lighting Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb and Van Ronk licks. “Criminalogy” and a song in Spanish ended the show and led to the encores. The encores included requested songs “Navajo Rug” and “Tonight We Ride” and the final song of the night was “Veteran’s Day” where Tom channeled Johnny Cash’s version of the song.
Overall it was a great night of song from Americana’s premier songwriter! (IMHO)! (Remember if there are mistakes about the order of the songs or songs I left out, I’ll be 60 on Saturday!)
Here’s Tom and Thad performing “Tonight We Ride”