Tom Russell: Live Last Night

tom russell

Live Last Night

By Juli Thanki

Tom Russell played Jammin' Java Saturday night, fresh off his appearance on "Letterman." He taped the same day Dave made his big announcement, which led to an astronomical ratings boost, a fact Russell noted with delight. The singer-songwriter-author-criminologist is on tour celebrating the release of his new record "Blood and Candle Smoke." Strumming a battered guitar, he delivered two sets of highly literate folk music, referencing everything from the New Testament to the works of Graham Greene.

(After the jump, reverent silence and story time.)

His songs spanned the globe and the years, beginning with opener "East of Woodstock, West of Viet Nam," about his time in Africa during the '60s. "Guadalupe" was a gorgeous tale about a day spent at the Mexico City religious shrine, in which Russell implored the icon "I am least of all your children here/But I am most in need of hope." The audience listened in reverent silence -- except, that is, when Russell invited them to sing along.

Between songs Russell kept the audience laughing with humorous asides, most notably in his half-spoken, half-sung tribute to Dave Van Ronk. Says Russell: "One night in Dave Van Ronk's apartment was better than twelve years of Catholic education. Safer too." Very nearly stealing the show was lead guitarist Thad Beckman, whose melodic fingerpicked solos -- and musical impressions of Lightnin' Hopkins and Doc Watson -- were the perfect companion to Russell's weathered baritone.

The highlight of the evening was the encore, which featured a cover of Townes Van Zandt's "Snowin' on Raton," about which Russell said "they don't write 'em like that anymore." They don't, that is, unless their name is Tom Russell.

By David Malitz |  October 5, 2009; 3:46 PM ET Live Last Night
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