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Master storyteller’s cowboy ballad on a grand scale

Subtitled ‘A Ballad Of The West’, this is an expansive, cowboy culture wonderland from the man they call ‘America’s Greatest Living Songwriter’. Russell, who combines the Spirit of the West with an intellectual overview, has ventured on to this trail before, on 1999’s THE MAN FROM GOD KNOWS WHERE, but never to this degree. The two CDs cover a lot of ground with the story of an Irish youngster who travels to the States in the 1880s. It’s an ‘On The Road’ for the wagon train generation, a cruise across the US and Mexico with a wealth of Russell’s emotive songs – not least the splendid Hair Trigger Heart – and a wealth of Americana icons.

There are several appearances by Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Joe Ely, by Eliza Gilkyson and Gretchen Peters and others including – deep breath -Augie Meyers, Dan Penn, Guy Clark, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, David Olney and Jimmy La Fave. Plenty more too. And there are even appearances from beyond the grave – it’s possibly the only album to have featured Walt Whitman, Lead Belly and Johnny Cash.

Russell’s works line up alongside a wealth of traditional numbers (or at least snatches of them: Streets Of Laredo, Sam Hall) and those of Western heroes, such as Clark’s Desperados Waiting For A Train. It’s a breathtaking and ambitious work, although perhaps one that might benefit from a stage production with screens and narrators to fully absorb the tale. And, although there are 52 tracks across two CDs, so many are gone before you even realise – Joe Ely’s Gallo Del Cielo, a duet between Ely and folk pioneer Ian Tyson, lasts barely 90 seconds. There’s a feel of driving through small towns with the window down and catching snatches of music that sticks in the memory leaving you wanting more. Much more. Nick Dalton

Tom Russell THE ROSE OF ROSCRAE Photo Gallery

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