Wounded Heart of America

Wounded Heart of America

by Tom Russell

CD(Bonus Tracks / Digi-Pak)

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When is a Tom Russell record not really a Tom Russell record? When it's Wounded Heart of America. From the title it seems Russell is starting to take himself a bit seriously, even if it is taken from a quote by beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. This 18-song set contains 14 covers of tunes written or co-authored by Russell. They were recorded by Johnny Cash, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Joe Ely, Suzy Bogguss, Doug Sahm, Jerry Jeff Walker, Laurie Lewis, Dave Van Ronk, Ian Tyson, Nanci Griffith, Iris DeMent, Eliza Gilkyson, Dave Alvin, and Ferlinghetti. The final four tunes feature three songs by Russell (all new ones) and a duet with the great Barrence Whitfield from one of two discs the pair recorded together. Russell has his fans, and they number considerably, especially in Europe. But for the most part, no matter how hard he tries, he is an artist's artist. The respect he's earned from them is derived from the truly great, literate American songs he has written. Many of those songs are here, and are real highlights: Cash covering "Veteran's Day," Lewis' version of the spooky "Manzanar," Ely's live rave-up of "Gallo del Cielo" (which sounds like it was written for him), Suzy Bogguss' take on "Outbound Plane" (Griffith co-wrote it and recorded it but her version pales in comparison), the stellar duet on "Sky Above, Mud Below" by Elliott and Russell (arguably the best tune on the covers set), and Walker's "Navajo Rug" (co-written with Tyson). With due respect to the poet and publisher, the Ferlinghetti reading of the brilliant "Stealing Electricity" adds nothing and sounds rather corny. (There is enough bloody but unbowed American romanticism in Russell's songs to carry them musically, but reading them doesn't work at all.) Likewise, Sahm's "St. Olav's Gate" doesn't convey the longing in the song as well as Russell's own version, but the late Sahm's Texas Tornados version of "Haley's Comet" smokes (Alvin co-wrote it). The plaintive take on "Blue Wing," by Alvin, is better than Russell's because the first person here sounds like the song's protagonist. "Cuban Sandwich," by Russell and Whitfield, is a riot and different from anything else here. It is simply genius. Of the new songs, "Who's Gonna Build Your Wall?" is a thematic topical protest song about the proposed wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Russell is not a political songwriter, and this song is social, not political. With its button accordion (not credited though the rest of the musicians are) sounds like it could be Flaco Jimenez. "Home Before Dark," with its B-3 and weave of acoustic and electric guitars, is a shuffling rock & roll song from a bygone era that manages to evoke both the Everly Brothers and a younger Bruce Springsteen. Finally, the album's true gem, "The Death of Jimmy Martin," is the greatest tribute the self-proclaimed King of Bluegrass will ever receive, and it will forever damn Russell from the Grand Ole Opry because of its scathing indictment of the Nash Vegas country music institution that shunned both Martin and Hank Williams before him. It features a killer six-string solo by Redd Volkaert and backing vocals by Gilkyson, and Russell's direct, fiery, and pointed lyrics are among the very best he's ever written. This is an unusual collection but a welcome one, from one of the very best we have. And if it need be said, the new generation of coming songwriters would do well to look to Russell as a guidepost. He's more mythologically romantic and literary than almost any of them; he lives on the hard road without being self destructive; and he tells the truth as he sees it -- direct, dirty, and with the inelegant grace of a true poet.

Product Details

Release Date: 08/21/2007
Label: Hightone Records
UPC: 0012928819626
catalogNumber: 8196
Rank: 57385

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Tom Russell   Primary Artist,Guitar,Vocals
Eliza Gilkyson   Vocals,Background Vocals
Mark Hallman   Bass,Percussion,Background Vocals
Rick Richards   Drums
Redd Volkaert   Electric Guitar
Michael Martin   Guitar,Mandolin
Stephen Belans   Vibes

Technical Credits

Nanci Griffith   Composer
Ian Tyson   Composer
Tom Russell   Composer,Art Direction,Paintings
Dave Alvin   Composer
Lawrence Ferlinghetti   Author
Mark Hallman   Producer,Audio Production
Dick Reeves   Art Direction

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