Friday, November 30, 2007

Is Tom Russell the Next Johnny Cash?

Let me tell you about Tom Russell, a man who’s just out there waiting to be discovered as the next Johnny Cash. He’s cut stacks of albums over the years. Indians Cowboys Horses Dogs, Love and Fear, Box of Visions, Modern Art, The Rose of the San Joaquin and Heart on a Sleeve are all worth listening to. This man is an American living legend, unappreciated as of yet, but so was Johnny Cash for many years. Of all people, Russell was mentored by a Canadian, a guy named Ian Tyson. I first came across Ian in 1988 when I was living in Toronto working for Pepsi-Cola. I learned to love parts of Canada during my term with Pepsi, particularly Edmonton, Calgary, and the Pacific Northwest. Tyson is relatively unknown in today’s music circles, but in over 40 years of recording he has written some brilliant songs of dreams and truths.

What prompted this post is a new album released by a small Canadian label, Stony Plain Records. They’ve pulled together 15 Tyson songs called The Gift, which is a great introduction to his life’s work. Tyson learned his trade staying up all night, every night, playing for rowdy audiences and making friends with like-minded renegades in the saloons and casinos of Elco. Ramblin' Jack Elliott called them “a cowboy time”.

If I hadn’t been born in Lancashire, I would have loved to been born in the Wild West, and Tyson’s music takes you right there. He had Blue Rodeo, Jennifer Warnes, Chris Hillman, Gordon Lightfoot and the great Tom Russell singing on this album along with a great track from Ramblin' Jack himself.

45 years of great songs. For me they are stirring, vivid reminders of the good times in Calgary and Edmonton.