Tom Russell is a master storyteller and Mesabi, his new release for Shout! Factory (USA) & Proper (Europe), corrals some of the acclaimed singer-songwriter's most compelling tales to date. A thread runs through its songs, a zigzagging but determinedly solid line that connects the perilous bordertown of Juarez, Mexico to the real and faux glitz of L.A. and the bleak iron range of Minnesota—the Mesabi of the album's title. The broad landscapes created by Tom Russell for Mesabi are inhabited by characters we all know—Bob Dylan, James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor—and some we may not: the now-obscure, once well-known singer Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards, the tragic Disney child star Bobby Driscoll and the character actor Sterling Hayden. It's a logical progression from Russell's last album, 2009's Blood and Candle Smoke, yet it's like no other album Russell has made in his nearly four decades as a recording artist.
Co-produced by Russell and keyboardist Barry Walsh, and recorded in several different studios in Tucson, Texas, Nashville and Los Angeles, Mesabi is the 26th album from an artist whose songs have been recorded by such icons as Johnny Cash, Dave Van Ronk, Jerry Jeff Walker, Doug Sahm, Joe Ely, Nanci Griffith, Iris Dement, and Ramblin' Jack Elliott, among others. No less than Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the legendary poet, has said that he shares “a great affinity with Tom Russell's songs, for he is writing out of the wounded heart of America.”
For Mesabi, Russell invited along several prominent friends to assist him in bringing to fruition his newest compositions, among them Lucinda Williams, Van Dyke Parks, Sir Douglas Quintet keyboardist Augie Meyers and Calexico, the band with which Russell previously collaborated on Blood and Candle Smoke. The result is a collection that may be Russell's most cinematic and global to date, a work that instantly grips the listener and holds on as its vivid scenarios unfold from tune to tune. The consummate renegade, Tom Russell makes the music he wants to make, without intervention, and he does so without a care for trends and expectations.
“My career seems to have gone in the opposite direction from a lot of people whose notoriety came over their first half dozen records,” says Russell. “Mine didn't. My career built very slowly, and then I moved to El Paso in '97, further outside than anybody could imagine. By not plugging into the machine, the records I've made in the past 10 years have been my strongest and most outside records, especially the past two. It seems that the older I get, the more I've been able to keep on the outside.”
Tom Russell has appeared on the David Letterman TV show five times in the last few years, and his songs have appeared in a dozen movies and television series including: The new Monte Hellman movie The Road To Nowhere, Tremors, Songcatcher and Northern Exposure.
Tom Russell has published three books: a detective novel (in Scandinavia), a compendium of songwriting quotes with Sylvia Tyson (And Then I Wrote - Arsenal Press), and a book of letters with Charles Bukowski: (Tough Company: Mystery Island Press).
Russell is also an established painter represented by Yard Dog Folk Art in Austin( www.yarddog.com ) and Rainbow Man in Santa Fe ( www.rainbowman.com )
A book of Tom Russell`s art: Blue Horse/Red Desert was published by Bangtail Press in September 2011.
What are you trying to do, blow my mind? To include A Hard Rain, and give no quarter! Not one song any less than the others. An AMAZING album. Monte Hellman, Road to Nowhere, Two Lane Black Top, Producer of Reservoir Dogs.
I love “Mesabi.” The title song, is an overture for the whole album. In a work that shines with the brilliant songwriting and passionate singing his fans have come to expect of him, Tom Russell casts his unblinking eye on the American dreams that make--and break--us.
"Mesabi" has an epic sweep, a vision encompassing Liz Taylor, James Dean and Ukulele Ike. The songs depict scenes as varied as teenaged Bob Dylan pounding the piano in his high school auditorium and Hollywood informer Sterling Hayden sitting on his boat in Amsterdam, full of alcohol and self-loathing. And at the end of this vividly cinematic CD, as full of ups and downs as life itself, Tom reminds us--as he did at the end of his majestic "The Man from God Knows Where"--that, despite everything, "Love Abides." And I for one find him absolutely convincing. Gerard Mulligan, 5 Time Emmy Winner, Former Writer and Producer: Late Show With David Letterman
I so admire Tom Russell's work. It's fine craft, and posey, none of which dwarfs its embracing humanity and urgings. Van Dyke Parks
Tom Russell is Johnny Cash, Jim Harrison and Charles Bukowski rolled into one. I feel a great affinity with Tom Russell's songs, for he is writing out of the wounded heart of America. Lawrence Ferlinghetti (A Coney Island of the Mind)
Tom Russell is an original, a brilliant songwriter with a restless curiosity and an almost violent imagination. “Blood and Candle Smoke” is vintage Russell. Annie Prouxl (The Shipping News, Brokeback Mountain)
TOM RUSSELL WOULD BE TOO MODEST TO SAY SO BUT HE MIGHT JUST BE THE BEST AND MOST LASTING SINGER- SONGWRITER OF MY GENERATION; WHILE SOME ANNOYINGLY TYPECAST HIM AS A WESTERN OR COWBOY OR BORDER BALLADEER HE IS IN ALL WAYS AN AMERICAN BARD, A LIVING LINK BETWEEN COWBOYS AND THE BEATS AND ALL MANNER OF CHRONICLERS AND HISTORIANS AND POETS OF THE "OLD WEIRD AMERICA." SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2010, STEPHEN BODIO, QUERENCIA AND AUTHOR OF EAGLE DREAMS
AMERICAN DREAM IN TATTERS (Four Stars out of Four)
Russell is our finest writer/criminologist/poet/taxi driver/painter. And he can sure sing a love song (Finding You), a heartbreaking landscape (Crosses of San Carlos) and an apocalypse (Mississippi River Runnin' Backwards). Members of Calexico deftly fill in the background of these stunning portraits! USA TODAY, Sept 15, 2009.