BELLOWS FALLS >> Tom Russell's career arc is unlike most successful singer-songwriters. Typically, a troubadour attains their notoriety over the course of their first five or six records. Then their output tends to get a bit spotty after that.
But Russell is anything but typical. He has always been good, but really hit his stride in his mid-sixties.
This his not to say that his early output was anything to sneeze at. His resume includes over 30 well-received albums while having his compositions covered by some pretty amazing songwriters: Johnny Cash, Guy Clark, Nanci Griffith, Joe Ely, KD Lang, Dave Van Ronk, Doug Sahm, and Dave Alvin, to name a few. Over a dozen of his songs have landed in movies and TV shows. He has even appeared on Dave Letterman five times.
And when Russell was not touring the world, writing new songs, and making all those records, he somehow found the time, energy, and inspiration to write three books. And he is an established painter to boot.
Last year, Russell released his critically acclaimed masterpiece, entitled "The Rose of Roscrae", a sprawling double CD, containing 52 tracks, with contributions from too many renowned players to mention, that he started writing a mere twenty years ago.
In an email from Santa Fe, Russell – who will be appearing at The Windham Ballroom on Friday, July 1 – explained the roots of "Roscrae".
"I grew up on what they called "frontier musicals" and cowboy music, when I was a kid. "Frontier Musicals" were shows like "Oklahoma," by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and "Annie Get Your Gun," by Irving Berlin. They were set in the West, but written by East Coast writers a little corny, though the music was great. I began thinking of a musical set in the West with authentic old cowboy songs and dialogue and original lyrics that were more raw and real. After the whole thing was recorded - I realized it was like Homer and "The Odyssey" with cowboy hats."
World-wide accolades for "The Rose of Roscrae" have poured in. All Music Guide described the project as "soulful and moving romantic but gritty as hell, and enduring" The Guardian (UK) called it a "bravely original epic". Mojo Magazine voted it Top Folk Album of 2015.
So how does Russell explain his inverted career arc, churning out his best work after 30 releases? "Remaining an outsider helps. I never plugged into the Nashville or L.A. scenes. I've never had the gun to my head to produce what somebody else wants the song was always at the center of my work, and I wanted to grow as a songwriter. There's no retiring here. My audience continues to grow in slow leaps and it sustains me."
I asked Russell what he is proudest of at this point in time. "Surviving. Meeting my lovely wife in a Swiss honky-tonk she now runs our business. Also singing with Johnny Cash, having him record one of my songs, playing the David Letterman show five times. I'm always happy to be wrapped-up in the next new song. Making it real. Learning a new truth. Then singing it for folks."
Russell is particularly excited to sing some truth again for folks in southern Vermont. "This is a special gig because it's solo and I tell stories, play new songs, old songs, requests and also bring along some of my art and read from some of my books "
Tom Russell will be at The Windham Ballroom on Friday, July 1, at 8:30 p.m. 40 The Square, Bellows Falls.
Tickets may purchased online at popolomeanspeople.com.
For more information call 802-460-7676.
Dave Madeloni writes music reviews for the entertainment section of the Brattleboro Reformer.