The new Aztec Jazz may be the most wonderful to date. Tom Russell has never been afraid to try something new and different, but he really outdoes himself on this album, a live 2012 performance with guitarist Thad Beckman and the 31-member Norwegian Wind Ensemble. What to call the result, which incorporates elements of jazz, folk, Tex-Mex and classical music? Who knows? Who cares?
As Russell writes, “The results were beyond our dreams. Sometimes it sounded like Western movie music and sometimes it called up Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain. [The Wind Ensemble] played behind us without overpowering the songs, and I think my singing is far better than my vocals on the original tracks.” Perhaps so—though his always-emotive vocals on the originals were pretty damn powerful.
At any rate, the Ensemble’s trumpets, oboes, saxes, French horns, trombones and percussion—inventively arranged by Swedish composer Mats Halling—put a new slant on this classic American roots music.
As for the 11-track program, all written by Russell, it makes a strong case for him as one of the great songwriters of our time. He covers a lot of turf, but always sticks to subjects that relate to his personal experience and passions. Highlights include “Finding You,” a poignant love song; “Goodnight Juarez,” about the poverty in that city; and “East of Woodstock, West of Vietnam,” about spending the late 60s in Africa.
Then there’s the apparently autobiographical “Criminology,” in which he sings, “You may think I’m just a folk singer, no, I’m a master in the art of criminology”—which may sound nonsensical until you check Wikipedia and learn that, sure enough, Russell has a master’s in the subject from the University of California at Santa Barbara. The guy is full of surprises, musical and otherwise.
Somebody should nominate Aztec Jazz for a 2013 Grammy. And it should win. But first the nominator will have to figure out what category it belongs in. "Copyright 2013 by Jeff Burger, used by permission"
|Label: Shout Factory
Quotes: Blood and Candle Smoke: TOM RUSSELL
* * * * AMERICAN DREAM IN TATTERS (Four Stars out of Four)
Russell is our finest writer/criminologist/poet/taxi driver/painter. And he can sure sing a love song (Finding You), a heartbreaking landscape (Crosses
of San Carlos) and an apocalypse (Mississippi River Runnin' Backwards).
Members of Calexico deftly fill in the background of these stunning
portraits. it! USA TODAY, Sept 15, 2009.
Excellent record in all respects. Lyrics are jewels, arrangements deeply tasteful, vocals superb. You've got it! Robert Hunter, Grateful Dead Lyricist and co-writer of Bob Dylan`s 2009 Album: Together Through Life
Tom Russell is the US Folk Laureate. These are sad-slow requiems for a vanishing homeland, his novelistic, spinning tales…the backings are stately.
(Uncut, October 2009)
Veteran Texan – by- conviction finds a new day in Tucson with Calexico. He took to Tucson`s Wave Lab, current headquarters of country unorthodoxy, and started drawing big pictures with bold lines connecting the past to now, via grand themes and ghostly presences…Russell sings with heartfelt authority, while Calexico’s cool elegance balances the emotional ticket. (Mojo, October 2009)
The enigmatic Russell raises his songwriting to new and different heights of greatness. There are songs that, on first hearing, you know will remain imprinted on your memory for a lifetime. Relative to what is going on in these songs, on many levels I could go on and on...Album Of The Year (so far) hands downs! Very possibly Album Of The Decade! (Maverick UK, Five Stars out of Five, October 2009)
OK, I know I’ve said it before – but it bears repeating: I think Tom Russell is the finest singer-songwriter of my generation; the generation 10 to 15 years younger than Bob Dylan… I’ve thought that about Tom Russell for the better part of 25 years and I’m as convinced of that now, as I keep listening to Blood and Candle Smoke, a state-of-the-art album, as I’ve ever been..
Mike Regenstreiff, CKUT Montreal, Sing Out, Montreal Gazette
A work of considerable power!…..Paste Magazine
.... As is always the case with Russell's records, it's the songs; and on this set, they are so inspired and strikingly visual that they reach a place beyond his own margins.....It's roots music whose limbs are so knotted and twisted they are inseparable. Blood and Candle Smoke is unlike anything in Russell's catalog. It is his most musically ambitious, lyrically sophisticated album. He's become a novelist in song...While he tell stories that are unlikely and sometimes larger than life, they are, without question, truths worth investigating, chuckling at, and meditating upon. Blood and Candle Smoke is the perfect vehicle to introduce him anew to those who never knew he existed. After nearly 40 years in the business, who thought this even possible ? ALL MUSIC GUIDE, Tom Jurek
What can I say? Tom Russell is the master of the Russell road and dare few others follow in his path. Its safe to say that he has created his own genre and there is no higher compliment then that.
Elliott Murphey, Songwriter, Paris
Russell fans are bound to notice a new phase in his recording career. The instrumentation is different, but is nevertheless excellent. The songs, many very personal, are wide ranging, and finally, it could be argued, that this is the strongest album which Russell has recorded to date. (Country Music People, September 2009)
I think it is fairly safe to say that Tom Russell is an American Roots Legend with his career spanning some forty years and releasing a host of albums that have inspired a generation of musicians. It is quite simple a veritable Who`s Who of talent…when Johnny Cash covers you, then you know you`ve made it. Russell shows what a vibrant genre Roots can be. His insistently brilliant voice, combined with the sound of « Lost America » makes this a compelling and brilliant release…
Classic Rock Society, October 2009
Well, for more than 15 years, I've said, "Tom Russell is the finest singer-songwriter working in America today." He's lived up to that description, and then some, with this one! This CD is a masterpiece. He'll make new fans with this one, but the old ones are being taken to a new level.
Alec Wightman, Board Member, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Great CD. Great CD. Great CD. There is a sense of place in Tom Russell's writing that is palpable. I start to feel sand in my teeth and become wary of bumping in a saguaro cactus. His characters could ride with Cormac McCarthy's. And, best of all, under all the grit there beats the heart of a hopeless romantic. This is a splendid piece of work and I'm so glad to own it.
Tom Paxton, Folk Legend, Writer of Ramblin Boy and The Last Thing On My Mind
Just finished listening to the new Tom Russell, Blood And Candle Smoke...Wow! This is an amazing achievement if you ask me. Every song. I know that most of you will play this one anyway, but I am suggesting it goes to the top of the stack.
Matt Watroba, WDET Detroit, The Sing Out! Radio Magazine
Your new cd is fantastic. There are great poets, authors, songwriters,
But you just happen to be one of the greatest living songwriters. Now that
Is my opinion. Put that in your pipe & smoke it. (Roz Larman, Folk Scene, L.A.)
I sat with my jaw on the ground from the first to the last note of Russell's new album last night....Arthur Wood, Maverick. UK
What a killer album! Truly a work of art. (Gene Shay, World Cafe, WXPN, Philadelphia)
Tom Russell is nothing short of a cultural bomb shell coming from the Tower
of Russell. (Jay Marvin, Denver Talk Show Host)
Acclaimed Authors Weigh in on Tom Russell's Songs:
Tom Russell is Johnny Cash, Jim Harrison and Charles Bukowski rolled into one. I feel a great affinity with Tom Russell's songs, for he is writing out of the wounded heart of America. Lawrence Ferlinghetti (A Coney Island of the Mind)
Tom Russell is an original, a brilliant songwriter with a restless curiosity and an almost violent imagination.Annie Prouxl (The Shipping News, Brokeback Mountain)
Tom Russell is the last great American voice. For decades, he has been writing/performing and enriching us with mini works of pure art that make the other so called realists seem TR-lite. With Blood and Candle Smoke he has produced his masterpiece…if Guadalupe doesn't make you want to weep, you're better off with Britney and other nonsense.
Every song on this pure gold album is a rare and rarer treasure
Ken Bruen (The Dramatist, The Cross etc.)
Tom Russell's HOTWALKER is the best Sam Peckinpah movie since Peckinpah died. It's a ghostly jubilee, an audacious slab of Blue America. Narrated and (mostly) sung by noir cowboy, Tom Russell… it is a singular recording, bound to be controversial--it's not only going to ruffle feathers, but leave feathers scattered on the ground. Luis Urrea, The Devil's Highway.
Tom Russell is the most original songwriter out there. Who else can bounce off of the beatitudes and the troubadors, e e cummings and Hemingway, Salinger and Tennessee Williams, Ken Kesey and Graham Greene, all with ease and humor? He packs an amazing mixture into this Great American Novel of an album: Woodstock and Vietnam, the "lie of Western history," Apache boys on a fatal bender, Cochise and Geronimo and shapeshifters, Mother Jones and black-lung miners, Santa Ana blows and Louisiana hurricanes, nearly every river in the forty-eight, down to the Brazos and the Wabash, and always the lure and danger of the border, the ambivalent magnet of Mexico. Above it all floats the incomprehensible fact and miracle of Guadalupe's grace from the titlesong's line: "Who am I to doubt these mysteries, cured in centuries of blood and candlesmoke." There is pain and death and treachery but there is also love, a love like Tom's never quite sung before, love as grace and miracle too, love to make you cry, in "Finding You." This album--story and poetry and music, at once epic and personal--comes from a bard in the truest sense of the word, from a musical storyteller with a unique and poignant voice. Ultimately I am reminded of none of those allusions listed above and think of Tom Russell as the musical equivalent of Cormac McCarthy.
Allen Josephs, University Research Professor, University of West Florida/EH-FL. Author pf, The White Wall of Spain, Ritual and Sacrafice in the Corrida
1. East Of Woodstock, West Of Viet Nam
2. Santa Ana Wind
3. Nina Simone
5. Crosses Of San Carlos
6. Finding You
7. Mississippi River Runnin’ Backwards
8. The Most Dangerous Woman In America
9. Don’t Look Down
11. American Rivers
12. Darkness Visible