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Tom Russell - Modern Art

Modern Art

Tom Russell

Hightone Records
220 4th street #101
Oakland, CA 94607

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Moshe Benarroch

Modern Art a collection of musical short stories about a variety of subjects and personalities, is Tom Russell at his literate best. Modern Art includes a performance of Charles Bukowski's poem Crucifix in A Death Hand combined with Warren Zevon's classic Carmelita. It also includes a great version of Michael Smith's The Dutchman and three duets with Nancy Griffith.

Russell started his recording career in the late 70's and has more than 20 CDs, peaked by the concept album The Man From God Knows Where. He describes historical characters in perfect short stories composed with pure American music, raging from cowboy music through country, folk and rock. His greatest song Gallo Del Cielo appears in many of his recordings, and has been recorded in about 10 different versions. This song, like many of his songs, is reminds me of a William Faulkner novel condensed into 5 minutes.

From his vast discography I think that The Man From God Knows Where is his masterpiece and one of the best folk concept albums of all times. Following its steps is Song Of The West and The Rose Of San Joaquin. However, if you have all those CDs and want to check out more of his work, go on. Russell has not made a wrong move in his entire career and all of his CDs are highly enjoyable. Even his early ones (when he sang as a duo with Patricia Hardin) are solid folk music any folkie would enjoy.

Modern Art is a great addition to Russell's discography, and I have enjoyed this CD a lot for the past few weeks. However, I find that although his lyrics are as strong as ever, the melodies have a strong sense of deja vu and in all cases reminded me of other songs. The same can be said of the Russell sound and the production, maybe a different instrumentation would help make the songs seem fresher. It is then no surprise that the best songs musically are two versions of other songwriters: Carmelita, a song from Warren Zevon fist record and the great The Dutchman written by Michael Smith.

From the "The Dutchman":

"Long ago I used to be a young man
and dear Margaret remembers that for me..."


  • The Kid From Spavinaw (Tom Russell)
  • The Ballad of Sally Rose (Tom Russell)
  • The Boy Who Cried Wolf (Tom Russell)
  • Muhammad Ali (Tom Russell)
  • American Hotel (Tom Russell)
  • Racehorse Haynes (Tom Russell)
  • The Dutchman (Michael Smith)
  • Modern Art (Tom Russell)
  • Isaac Lewis (Tom Russell)
  • Bus Station (Tom Russell)
  • Crucifix in a Death Hand (Bukowski)/Carmelita (Warren Zevon)
  • Tijuana Bible (Tom Russell)
  • Gulf Coast Highway (Tom Russell)

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2003, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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