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Saturday, 20th April 2019
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Tom Russell - Folk Hotel

Folk Hotel Tom RussellTom Russell has been to lots of places and he wants us to know.  On his latest album the veteran American folk man takes us on a tour through New York,  El Paso, Swansea, Belfast and Copenhagen stopping off in Dallas to see JFK shot to bits.

Folk Hotel has attracted some extravagant praise elsewhere.  Russell is the “architect of Americana,” he is “largely without peer,” and this release is a “triumph.” 

Your reviewer tried to like this album.  Your reviewer did not succeed in liking this album.   Tom Russell is only slightly younger than God, and he’s closing in on the forty album mark,  but there are too many parts of this one that sound like a sixth former trying to be a cross between Bob Dylan and Randy Newman.

Perhaps the most outrageous offering is The Sparrow of Swansea.  Writing about another Dylan (Thomas this time) does not entitle you to nick his words and shoe horn them  into your own melody, especially using the same chord sequence as The Streets of London.

And the spoken intros.  Really? You need to have a good reason to justify having one.  Here they’re just a device to make things sounds a bit different, because he can’t think of any other way.

Russell sees himself as a word smith, so it’s disappointing to hear so many of what the late Cyril Fletcher would have described as “soppy rhymes.”  There’s too much that is formulaic as well.  Did you miss that four line verse that resolves itself in the final line?  Don’t worry, there’ll be another one along very soon.

The redeeming features come in the guitar playing.  Rise Again Handsome Johnny has a crisp rag-time style finger-picked accompaniment that carries it along nicely.  A pity about the description of Jack Ruby as a “low level Mafia cat.”  It rhymes with “hat” you see.  For fucks sake.

The blues intro to Scars On His Ankles about Lightnin’ Hopkins holds much promise for thirty five seconds.  Then we get the Elvis Presley impersonation.

There are surely more inspiring places to stop off then Folk Hotel.  It’s clichéd, forgettable and occasionally ridiculous.

Folk Hotel is released on Proper Records on September 8th 2017.

- Les Pilling


Tom Russell

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