Thursday, March 31, 2005

Hot Walker Hot Potato


Brief first thoughts on Tom Russell's latest.

Debated vigiorously on at least two mailing lists I'm on, including Tom's own, and panned in americana Bible (if the Bible were a monthly magazine) No Depression but not without some heavyweight supporters, Hotwalker has certainly raised more than your average fuss.

The controversy is thus: There are 18 tracks on the album, but only three actual songs. The rest is a spoken word (with musical excerpts and accompaniment) journey through, as Greil Marcus would have it, old, weird America. California mostly, with a detour via (where else) Greenwich Village.

It's Woody meets Steinbeck meets Kerouac meets James Ellroy with a supporting cast of amyl nitrate popping circus midgets, displaced okies, corrupt politicians, folkie troubadours, Nudie suited Bakersfield brawlers, outlaws, Lenny Bruce. And Bukowski, always Bukowski. One of the songs Woodrow is a cranky, bitter, beautiful pean to Woodie Guthrie and ranks up there with Tom's best.

It's compelling and dangerous. I love it.

So, yes, I recommend it with my usual fangirl enthusiasm, but know what you're getting.

Update: Five star review at Uncut.

Update: Now I've had a night to digest it. Actually 19 tracks and ... how many "actual songs?" (whatever that means) Two that Tom sings (Grapevine and Woodrow), one bit that Dave Van Ronk does, Gretchen Peters does America the Beautiful. So, three and a half? Four?

Update: Also I was going to be snarky about the galahs on the Sydney Morning Herald letters page the last few days, recycling every banal joke about country music ever. ie. I like BOTH kinds of music. Play a country song backwards and your truck starts again, your wife comes back etc etc. Various white trash references. I was going to, but I don't want to bump Tom from top of the page.

Update: Also, if you're in Sydney and not catching Fred Eaglesmith tonight, why the hell not?

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