TOM RUSSELL – The Rose Of Roscrae (Proper Records PRPCD130)

RofRThe term “ballad opera” isn’t heard much these days but that is exactly what we have here. There are fifty-two tracks divided into two acts on two discs; some are song length, others are mere vignettes linking them. There are guest appearances from Johnny Cash, Joe Ely, Eliza Gilkyson, Getchen Peters, Ian Tyson. Jimmy LaFave, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and even Bert Lloyd among many others. Some are playing roles, others providing background colour and some are old recordings co-opted for the show.

The basic package doesn’t offer much in the way of clues except for a quote taken from the narration which is spoken over the overture in which Russell explains that it begins with a hanging – which actually occurs in the middle of the story. Actually, there is a sixty page booklet with annotated lyrics but that’s not for the likes of humble reviewers. The story elements are not necessarily arranged chronologically so it can be confusing but we can say with some certainty that Russell plays an Irish kid called John Sutton who left Tipperary in the 1880s but he has several aliases and as many adventures.

Russell’s original songs tend towards solid country rock, a solid framework on which to hang the story. Except for the narrative pieces like ‘The Last Running’, of course. Other artists do their own thing, so there’s a gorgeous version of ‘Ain’t No More Cane On The Brazos’ by LaFave and Peters and a rocking take on ‘Jesus Met The Woman At The Well’ with Gilkyson joining Russell. Some songs appear more than once in very different guises. Augie Myers, aka Augie Blood, does strange things to ‘A Closer Walk With Thee’ and ‘He’ll Be Dead Before He Hits The Ground’ and the concept of the last frontier are recurring threads.

The second act finds our hero in the guise of Spanish Johnny somewhere around the Mexican border but it begins briefly in Ireland and frequently takes the point of view of the women in John’s life. Some of this section is rather puzzling. ‘Damien’ mentions Belgium and Bergen for reasons which aren’t quite clear but ‘Gallo Del Cielo’, the story of a stolen fighting cock, leads neatly on to memories of Pancho Villa before one of our heroes is ‘Doin’ Hard Time In Texas’ – an excuse to include a Lead Belly song.

The Rose Of Roscrae is a wide-ranging, one might almost say sprawling, story – a collage of music and lives. At first sight it looks like a folly but it’s a glorious one.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: http://www.tomrussell.com/

Tom Russell – The Rose Of Roscrae

RofR

Double CD album out 13th April 2015 on Proper Records

Tom Russell’s ambitious new double-album The Rose of Roscrae takes a fascinating look at the history of the American West and traditional cowboy and folk music, through the story of an Irish kid who travels to the United States in the late 1880s to become a cowboy.

Produced by Tom Russell and Barry Walsh, The Rose of Roscrae features a who’s who of legendary Americana icons including: Jimmie Dale Gilmore, David Olney, Johnny Cash, Joe Ely, Augie Meyers, Fats Kaplin, Barry Walsh, Jimmy LaFave, Gretchen Peters, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Walt Whitman, Moses “Clear Rock” Platt, Jack Hardy, David Massengill, A.L. “Bert” Lloyd, Finbar Furey, Sourdough Slim, Blackie Farrell, Tex Ritter, Glen Orhlin, Pat Russell, John Trudell, Henry Real Bird, Thad Beckman, Maura O’Connell, Eliza Gilkyson, The McCrary Sisters, Ian Tyson, Bonnie Dobson, Lead Belly, Guy Clark, Dan Penn, Gurf Morlix, and Pat Manske. The album’s overture is performed by the Norwegian Wind Ensemble, arranged by Mats Hålling, composed by Tom Russell.

For over four decades and 28 album releases Tom Russell has continued to live up to his status as “one of the best singer-songwriters of our time” (Washington Post). His previous two  studio releases, Blood and Candle Smoke (2009) and Mesabi (2011), are considered his strongest composed works yet and were, in part, recorded with the groundbreaking roots band Calexico. In the 1990s, Russell and Dave Alvin were hailed as the architects of what came to be known as “Americana” music after their Merle Haggard tribute, Tulare Dust, initiated the Americana charts in the U.S. and remained number one for a year. Russell’s previous release, Aztec Jazz (2013), moved Americana into a new realm and his acclaimed song catalogue into uncharted territory.

Tom Russell’s songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Doug Sahm, Nanci Griffith, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Dave Alvin, Joe Ely, and others. The Rose of Roscrae is his third in a series of acclaimed folk operas, following The Man From God Knows Where (1999) and Hotwalker (2005). Russell has also composed movie scores, including songs for the Monte Hellman movie The Road To Nowhere and published five books, most recently 120 Songs of Tom Russell. An accomplished fine artist, Russell’s paintings are featured in: Blue Horse/Red Desert: The Art of Tom Russell.

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: http://www.tomrussell.com/

‘The Rose Of Roscrae’ trailer video:

Smithsonian Folkways release 5-Disc Set Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection on February 24

SFW40201_LeadBellySFCollection_Cover_HighRes_1500BOX SET INCLUDES 108 TRACKS, 16 PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED RECORDINGS, RARE PHOTOS + 140-PG LARGE-FORMAT BOOK

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings is proud to present Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection – the first in-depth, career-spanning box set of songs, photos, and essays dedicated to one of America’s most treasured 20th-century icons (due out February 24, 2015).

A companion to 2012’s GRAMMY-winning Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection, Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection chronicles the recordings of Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter (c. 1888­–1949) in 108 tracks over five discs, including Lead Belly’s beloved classics ‘The Midnight Special’, ‘Goodnight Irene’, and ‘Black Girl (Where Did You Sleep Last Night)’ among many others. The collection also boasts 16 previously unreleased recordings, including four never-before-available original songs, and radio programs Lead Belly made for WNYC which can be heard for the first time since airing in 1941.

The set also features many rare photos, among them an intimate portrait taken shortly before his untimely death from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 1949. It is one of the few known color photographs of the legend.

Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection was compiled and produced by GRAMMY-winning Smithsonian Folkways archivist Jeff Place and Executive Director of the GRAMMY Museum Robert Santelli. The collection is housed in a 140-page, large format (12×12) book, with an introduction entitled ‘A Man of Contradiction and Complexity’ from Santelli and an illuminating essay ‘The Life and Legacy of Lead Belly’ by Place.

In addition, The GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles, CA is currently hosting an exhibition entitled Lead Belly: A Musical Legacy which showcases a collection of documents and lyrics, as well as his signature 12-string Stella guitar (on display through May, 2015). There will be more special events planned around the box set’s release, with details to follow.

Lead Belly is “the hard name of a harder man,” said Woody Guthrie of his friend and fellow American music icon, who was born Huddie Ledbetter (c. 1888–1949). From the swamplands of Louisiana, the prisons of Texas, and the streets of New York City, Lead Belly and his music became cornerstones of American folk music and touchstones of African American cultural legacy. With his 12-string Stella guitar, he sang out a cornucopia of songs that included his classics “The Midnight Special,” “Irene,” “The Bourgeois Blues,” and many more, which in turn have been covered by musical notables such as the Beach Boys (“Cotton Fields”), Creedence Clearwater Revival (“The Midnight Special”), Led Zeppelin (“Gallows Pole”), Van Morrison (“The Midnight Special”), Nirvana (“Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”), Odetta (“Looking for a Home” tribute album), Little Richard (“Rock Island Line”), Pete Seeger, Frank Sinatra (“Irene”) and Tom Waits (“Irene”), among many others.

Lead Belly recorded with Folkways Records founder Moses Asch between 1941 and 1947, capturing some of the most important recordings in the history of American music.

If you would like to order a copy of the set, download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website.