Hard to believe that Tom Russell could ever top his 1999 masterpiece of family archaeology, The Man from God Knows Where, but with Modern Art he may well have done just that. This austere beauty takes a hard but always empathetic look at the inner souls of some real-life dreamers whose triumphant facades often mask inner turmoil. The tone is set by the spare, haunting soundscape accompanying the deathbed laments of Mickey Mantle in "The Kid from Spavinaw," turning the Mick's jocular quip, "If I'd known I was gonna live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself," in on its subject as he assesses the physical toll the hard living took on him and his athletic gifts. Conversely, the Calypso beat energizing "Muhammad Ali" sets up the proper party atmosphere for a celebration of the Champ's courage, in and out of the ring. Lyrics delivered in desperate, urgent tones are mirrored by some tough, driving blues-rock defined by a wailing harmonica, and what better way to summon the mind-set of someone who would need the services of the infamous Houston defense attorney "Racehorse Haynes"? A tender acoustic folk ballad, with Eliza Gilkyson supplying ghostly harmonies, tells the tragic tale of the sailor "Isaac Lewis." Nanci Griffith contributes to three songs, most dramatically Dave Alvin's Spanish-tinged mid-tempo shuffle, "Bus Station," a tale of lovers coming apart. Elsewhere, Russell sets a Charles Bukowski poem to music on "Crucifix in a Death Hand" and imagines the tortured final hours of Stephen Foster's life in a poignant acoustic treatment of Carl Brouse's "American Hotel," all the while fashioning one of the most vivid moments in recent folk music history.