Tom Russell is always a welcome visitor to these shores, no more so than at Farncombe where he was making his seventh appearance for the second of a two night stint.
With his marathon concept folk opera THE ROSE OF ROSCRAE recently hot off the press, Tom chose to devote virtually the whole of the first set to the album but only after kicking off with the ever popular Raglan Road which also gets a brief airing on the new album.
THE ROSE OF ROSCRAE is an amazing double album spanning some two and a half hours and 52 tracks, relating the adventures of a 16 year old Irish lad who in 1880 leaves his first love, Rose of Roscrae, to seek his fortune as an American cowboy. Only fully committed Russell devotees who already owned the album therefore, could fully appreciate the excellent fare on offer.
For the uninitiated, the set appeared rather fragmented as Tom attempted to explain the complex tale of murders, trials and hangings as the hero Johnny, falls foul of the law whilst hankering to be reunited with his Rose. Supported by ace Italian guitarist Max De Bernardi, things kicked off with the rocking Hair Trigger Heart before Tom played both the accused and the judge on Guilty/Johnny Behind The Deuce which came over as a bit of a comic sketch as the artist had to answer the judge’s questions himself.
Nevertheless there were some great songs; Tularosa, Doin’ Hard Time In Texas and of course the title track, all stood out. I also liked I Talk To God although it was impossible for Tom to replicate Maura O’Connell’s wonderful anthem on the album. In fact given the host of top flight musicians and vocalists that contributed to the album, this was probably true for much of the first set. Given the surroundings, I would have liked to have seen Just a Closer Walk With Thee included, particularly as the hymn pops up in various guises several times on the album.
For the second set Tom satisfied his longtime fans with a retrospective selection from his 30 odd albums. East Of Woodstock West Of Vietnam, California Snow, Stealing Electricity, Guadalupe and Hong Kong Boy were all enthusiastically appreciated by the faithful whilst Tom displayed his softer side with Finding You, a great ballad written for Nadine, his wife of 11 years.
A democratic audience vote determined that Tom closed with Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall, an updated ode to Donald Trump now that the Mexican border issue is back on the political agenda. Things closed with the inevitable but somewhat contrived encore, Navajo Rug.
Tom Russell is always guaranteed to provide first class entertainment. His longtime fans appreciate the sometimes overdone between-song patter but, whilst Tom likes to establish a rapport with his audiences, I’d question the necessity to thank the sound man on five separate occasions! John Roffey www.tomrussell.com