Saturday, March 9, 2019

Tom Russell – October in the Railroad Earth

October in the Railroad Earth

On Hotwalker, an album released in 2005, Tom Russell mixed original songs, poetry, stories and rants with the recorded voices of Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, Lenny Bruce, Dave Van Ronk and others into a brilliantly conceived and executed audio collage that delved into lost or dimly remembered aspects of American culture – what Greil Marcus, writing about Bob Dylan, referred to as the “old weird America.”

Much of Tom’s work since then, including October in the Railroad Earth, yet another great album from the songwriter I consider to be the finest of my generation – the generation that came after groundbreakers like Dylan and Tom Paxton – has continued to be inspired by that faded American culture. Tom refers to this album as “Jack Kerouac meets Johnny Cash in Bakersfield” – a good description.

The album opens with the title track, a tribute to Kerouac, that takes its title from one of the beat writer’s prose poems – a short excerpt of it was included on Hotwalker – on which Tom references Kerouac’s days as a railroad brakeman in San Francisco and ultimately as the creator of one of the most important bodies of work in 20th century literature. The Bakersfield-style arrangement features Bill Kirchen on lead guitar and Marty Muse on pedal steel.

“Red Oak Texas” is one the most poignant songs I’ve heard in years. It tells a sad and true story of twin brothers from that small Texas town who went off to war in the Middle East and came home only to lose their battles with PTSD when they couldn’t leave the war behind.

“Isadore Gonzalez,” an infectious Tex-Mex corrido featuring Los Texmaniacs members Max Baca on bajo sexto and Josh Baca on accordion, tells the story – also true – of a Mexican cowboy who was part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in the late-1880s and who died when his horse fell on him during a show in England. Tom wrote the song from Gonzalez’s perspective singing from beyond the grave.

Other favorites include “T-Bone Steak and Spanish Wine,” a piece about Tom’s visit to a restaurant in Northern California where he’d gigged at back in 1981 and the nostalgic evening he spent there with the owner singing old songs and eating the same special – a T-bone steak with Spanish wine – that was on the menu almost four decades ago; “Hand-Raised Wolverines,” in which he recalls encountering “semi-tame” wolverines at a game park in Alberta; and “Back Streets of Love,” featuring Eliza Gilkyson’s harmony vocals, a beautiful love song with modern technological references.

Tom Russell & Mike Regenstreif (2018)
Along with 10 of his own songs – one co-written with his wife Nadine Russell – Tom ends the album with a great version of the traditional folk song, “Wreck of the Old 97,” that he says he learned as a kid from Johnny Cash’s first record. I remember Tom singing it in tribute to Cash at a gig in Montreal about a week after he died in 2003.

Virtually every album Tom has released over the past three decades has ended up at or near the top of my best-of list for the year. Less than three months into 2019, I suspect that will be the case for October in the Railroad Earth come December.

Watch the trailer for October in the Railroad Earth.

Find me on Twitter.

And on Facebook.

Mike Regenstreif

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Saturday Morning with Mike Regenstreif – CKCU – Saturday March 2, 2019

Saturday Morning is an eclectic roots-oriented program on CKCU in Ottawa heard live on Saturday mornings from 7 until 10 am (Eastern time) and then available for on-demand streaming. I am one of the four rotating hosts of Saturday Morning and base my programming on the Folk Roots/Folk Branches format I developed at CKUT in Montreal.

CKCU can be heard at 93.1 FM in Ottawa and on the web.

This episode of Saturday Morning can be streamed on-demand at …

Jerry Jeff Walker- Mr. Bojangles
Gypsy Songman (Rykodisc)

Naming the Twins- Truly Home
Drifters & Dreamers (Duet Right)
Laura Smith- Safe Home, Sweet Light

Bowser & Blue- The Night They Invented Poutine
Crackpots (You Guys Publishing)
Katherine Rondeau- Wishing
Unfortunate Point of View (Katherine Rondeau)

Sneezy Waters- Deportee
Sneezy Waters Live (Sneezy Waters)
Robert Jones & Matt Watroba- Pastures of Plenty
Common Chords (Common Chords Records)
James Talley- Do-Re-Mi
Woody Guthrie and Songs of My Oklahoma Home (Cimarron Records)
Nora Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie- 59th Street at 5th Avenue, Manhattan
My Name is New York: Ramblin’ Around Woody Guthrie’s Town (Woody Guthrie Publications)
Ashley & Simpson- So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Ya
Off to Here Land (Ashley & Simpson)

Dave Gunning- Wish I was Wrong
Up Against the Sky (Wee House of Music)

Michael Jerome Browne- Love’s a Funny Thing
That’s Where It’s At! (Borealis)
Ball and Chain & The Wreckers- Mamou Two Step
Live at the Bayou (Ball and Chain)

Our Native Daughters (Rhiannon Giddens, Allison Russell, Amythyst Kiah)- Moon Meets the Sun
Songs of Our Native Daughters (Smithsonian Folkways)
Eric Bibb- Michael, Row the Boat Ashore
Global Griot (Stony Plain)
Odetta w/The Holmes Brothers- This Little Light of Mine
Gonna Let it Shine (M.C.)
John McCutcheon w/Hot Rize- Well May the World Go

Extended Feature: Songs of Kate & Anna McGarrigle – The next 16 songs were written or co-written by Kate or Anna McGarrigle.

Martha Wainwright- Matapedia
Rufus Wainwright & Emmylou Harris- I Eat Dinner
Maria Muldaur- Cool River
Waitress in a Donut Shop (Reprise)
Kate & Anna McGarrigle- My Town

Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris- I’ve Had Enough (I Cried for Us)
Trio (Warner Bros.)
Maria Muldaur- Lying Song
Sweet Harmony (Reprise)
Judy Collins- Sun Son
Times of Our Lives (Elektra)
Kate & Anna McGarrigle- Dancer with Bruised Knees

Linda Thompson & Richard Thompson- Go Leave
Linda Ronstadt- You Tell Me That I’m Falling Down
Prisoner in Disguise (Asylum)
Gem Andrews- Come a Long Way
North (Market Square)
Kate & Anna McGarrigle- Jacques et Gilles
Matapedia (Hannibal)

Chaim Tannenbaum- (Talk to Me of) Mendocino
Chaim Tannenbaum (StorySound)
Emmylou Harris- Love Is
Bluebird (Reprise)
Katie Moore- Heart Like a Wheel
Montebello (Katie Moore)
Kate & Anna McGarrigle- Complainte pour Ste-Catherine

Tom Russell- Back Streets of Love
Lula Wiles- Hometown
What Will We Do (Smithsonian Folkways)
Alice Howe- Homeland Blues
You’ve Been Away So Long (Alice Howe)
Lisa Gutkin, Aaron Halva & Company- Opening: Ghost Waltz
Indecent: Original Broadway Cast Recording (Yellow Sound Label)
Lisa Gutkin, Aaron Halva & Company- Ale Brider
Indecent: Original Broadway Cast Recording (Yellow Sound Label)

Blind Willie McTell- Statesboro Blues
The Rough Guide to Blind Willie McTell (World Music Network)
Ruth Wyand- Blind Willie McTell
Tribe of One (Ruth Wyand)

Professor Longhair- Mardi Gras in New Orleans
Big Chief (Tomato)
Barbara Dane- Basin Street Blues
Hot Jazz, Cool Blues & Hard-Hitting Songs (Smithsonian Folkways)
Dr. John- Goin’ Back to New Orleans
Goin’ Back to New Orleans (Warner Bros.)
Preservation Hall Jazz Band- When the Saints Go Marching In
Best of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (CBS)
Professor Longhair- Big Chief
Big Chief (Tomato)

I’ll be hosting Saturday Morning next on March 30.

Find me on Twitter. @MikeRegenstreif

 --Mike Regenstreif