Tom Russell announces a new album, Folk Hotel

Tom Russell

Tom Russell will release a brand-new studio album, Folk Hotel (Proper Records) on September 8th. The physical version showcases thirteen new Russell originals plus, as one of two bonus tracks, Bob Dylan’s ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’, a duet with Joe Ely, featuring Joel Guzman on Tex-Mex accordion. Augie Meyers and Eliza Gilkyson also make guest appearances on the album, which was recorded at Congress House studio in Austin, Texas.

A signature Tom Russell collection, the wide-ranging subject matter on Folk Hotel includes songs and stories about New York’s Chelsea Hotel, a journey up the road from El Paso to Santa Fe, a cowboy song about Ian Tyson refusing to “leave his old horses”, a song for Dylan Thomas – melting into a James Joycean landscape about day in the life of Belfast, a song about Tom meeting J.F.K., another song using only 16th century slang and more.

Described as “the renaissance man of Americana: novelist, criminologist, artist, and singer-songwriter ” by The Guardian, Tom Russell’s long and influential career has many highlights, including Mojo Magazine’s Folk Album of the Year 2015, The Rose Of Roscrae, his third in a series of acclaimed folk operas, following The Man From God Knows Where (1999) and Hotwalker (2005), live album Aztec Jazz (2013), recorded in Norway with world-renowned 32 piece Norwegian Wind Ensemble, Mesabi (2011) and Blood and Candle Smoke (2009). 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 songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Doug Sahm, Nanci Griffith, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Dave Alvin, Joe Ely, and many others. Alongside his thirty-five acclaimed albums, 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 and a new book of essays, Ceremonies of the Horsemen. An accomplished fine artist, Russell’s paintings are featured in Blue Horse/Red Desert: The Art of Tom Russell.

Artist’s website:

There are no videos from the new album yet so here’s an oldie to be going on with – ‘Navajo Rug’ – live:

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

Artist’s website:

Tom Russell – The Rose Of Roscrae


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.

Artist’s website:

‘The Rose Of Roscrae’ trailer video:

ELIZA GILKYSON – The Nocturne Diaries (Red House RHR-264)

NocturneAs the title suggests, while may be some harsher musical moments (notably the gutsy ringing guitar driven ‘The Red Rose And The Thorn’), this is an album borne from the thoughts and musings that both sooth and trouble our thoughts during the hours of darkness.

Produced by her multi-instrumentalist son, Cisco Ryder, it finds her musing equally on despair and hope,  from the  catchy folk-rock of ‘An American Boy’, sung from the perspective of a young boy planning to blow up his school and kill his fellow students, ‘Not My Home’’s account of young victim of domestic sexual abuse and the it’s all going to hell vision of the strummed acoustic ‘World Without End’ to the twangsome rootsy hymnal optimism of ‘Touchstone’ and the don’t be so worried about everything letter to self of the hoedown shaped ‘Eliza Jane’. Pointedly, opening track ‘Midnight Oil’ offers a cascading chords  lullaby of hardship ahead and “what was lost in our spiral down from grace” but promises a new, better world rising from the old.

With perfect timing given the release of Darren Aronosfky’s Biblical epic, a slow building ‘The Ark’ is a first person account by  Noah as to why he’s building his refuge from destruction while elsewhere,  ‘No Tomorrow’, with its throaty, plangent guitar, is a live life while you can love song and ‘Where No Monument Stands’, John Gorka’s arrangement of William Stafford’s poem about a field never blighted by battle, celebrates the heroic struggle, not of man but nature.

For an album with concerns of family at its core, Gilkyson fittingly chooses to include a cover of ‘Freight Train’, a spooked 50s song about settling down written by her father Terry and featuring harmonies from her daughter Delia Castillo and,  extending the locomotive image, opts to close out with ‘All Right Now’, a pedal steel soothed, gently slow country waltzing song about how she could have pursued fame and fortune in the charts, but instead values the treasure of home and love that she has “right here in my heart”. After the dark clouds of an uneasy sleep, here’s is the dawn and the golden awakening to what truly counts.  Take once daily before retiring.

Mike Davies

Artist website:

JOHN GORKA – The Bright Side of Down (Red House Records)

gorkaIt’s been a while since I last crossed paths with a John Gorka album, but, listening to this, his twelfth, I’m pleased to find a seamless transition from my memories. Indeed, if anything he’s now so seasoned that he makes everything feel effortless, delivering a sound that’s as comfortable as your favourite old slippers.

At times, as with the waltzing ‘Bright Side of Down’ he reminds me of classic Tom Paxton while at others there’s echoes of Bruce Cockburn,  notably so on the laid back ‘Thirstier World’, a timely (and metaphorical) renewal song about the approaching spring and its victory over long winters, a season and theme to which he returns on ‘Really Spring’. There’s a touch of Cockburn too on the opening ‘Holed Up Mason City’, written after being snowed in while returning home after a tour, which, despite the Cajun flavoured accordion, has a similar jaunt to ‘Wondering Where The Lions Are’. As musicologists will know. Mason City was from where Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper took their last flight and both are referenced here, a reminder that he has an easy but effective way with an image or a phrase as on ‘Outnumbered’, a fingerpicked love song with steady tap beat rhythm, where he sings “I was never a player, maybe in song but not in love

Unfortunately, the downside of Gorka’s mellow mood is that sometimes the lyrics are rather less inspired, the lazy and undeniably catchy fiddle and banjo dappled ‘Mind To Think’ rhyming damage with sandwich, ham and cheese apparently, while the otherwise smartly written appropriately bluesy JJ Cale groove ‘Procrastination Blues’ with its soulful female oooh ooohs succumbs to the obvious cliché of ‘don’t put off till tomorrow what you can fail to do today’. And it will take a massive effort of will not to wince at the cooingly catchy but twee overload of ‘Honeybee’’s “the only girl worth thinking of, the  honeybee doodle bug.”

Thankfully, Gorka’s warm voice, relaxed delivery and hummable melodies are ample distraction in such moments and any minor blips are more than compensated for by ‘High Horse’ (with its hint of John Prine), one of the album’s two best  numbers, which addresses the economic downturn where “the neighbourhood’s gone quiet since the good jobs went south” as the narrator asks an old friend for help “for Gracie if not for my sake” and talks about memories and “scissors for thoughts”. Likewise on the musically circling title track and second standout where, joined by Eliza Gilkyson and Lucy Kaplansky on the chorus, he sings of hope and survival, observing that “maybe the key is thoughtful words and deeds to open up the voices of your dreams.”

There’s one non-original number, an unadorned, acoustic guitar accompanied ‘She’s That Kind Of Mystery’, a song written by the late Bill Morrissey who is also the subject of ‘Don’t Judge A Life’, a moving, emotion-stained tribute to his friend sung with breathy tenderness as he asks us to “measure a life by what was best”, closing with a reminder of love and mortality and that “we are here and then…..we’re not”.

Celebrating 30 years since he first found fame at the Kerville Folk Festival, it’s a little late in the day to be a game changer for what has been a steady and acclaimed if commercially unspectacular career, but anyone who’s followed him on the journey will be more than happy.

Mike Davies

Artist website:


Peace against War. Hope against Hate. Unity against Division.

Freedom against Fear. Love against Death.

The album was born and brought up in Kilburn, England, and comes to you by way of Austin,Texas. Sean is an unwilling member of the generation defined by neo liberalism. One of Thatcher’s children, who became one of Blair’s adults, this album is a howl against both, a direct challenge to a world where we are judged by what we consume rather than what we contribute.

LOVE AGAINST DEATH is a direct challenge to a reality dominated by greed, inequality, and injustice.  LOVE AGAINST DEATH is the choice we make at every moment, in every relationship, and by every action. It’s about taking sides.

The album was recorded in Austin, Texas, and produced by Mark Hallman. After hearing Mark’s work, with Eliza Gilkyson in particular, Sean realised he would be perfect. Sean wanted to capture his live guitar sound, and Mark is the absolute master in this area. As a session guitarist himself, he knows exactly how to record and mix different guitars. Mark has also produced Carole King, Ani di Franco, Tom Russell, Iain Matthews, as well as working with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Oasis, and Lyle Lovett.

”absolutely superb guitarist … reminiscent of John Martyn” 


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