Americana singer/songwriter Tom Russell was born in Los Angeles in 1950. Raised on the cowboy music of the American West, he grew up to be a talented songwriter, and began issuing albums under his own name in the early '70s. Russell's material, however, was also recorded by such luminaries as Johnny Cash, Guy Clark, and Dave Alvin, to name only a few. While much of Russell's work mined the country tradition, he was also known to flavor his work with Tex-Mex, folk, and the cowboy music of his youth. After an acclaimed career spanning two decades, Russell found another gear with 1999's Man from God Knows Where. A concept album eight years in the making, the LP presented a song cycle inspired not only by America's pioneers, but by Russell's own immigrant ancestors. Borderland, a set inspired by Russell's newfound home in the Juarez border region of Texas, followed in 2001. Modern Art appeared in April 2003 and Hotwalker -- a conceptual work inspired by Russell's encounters with author Charles Bukowski -- followed in 2005. A year later, Russell released Love and Fear, an album focusing on what he called "the ragged outback of love." Wounded Heart of America, a compilation of Russell classics performed by everyone from Johnny Cash and Iris DeMent to Russell himself, arrived in 2007. In 2009, he re-emerged on Shout Factory with Blood and Candle Smoke, recorded at Tucson's Wave Audio with owner Craig Schumacher co-producing. Players included songwriter Gretchen Peters on backing and duet vocals, and members of Calexico, among others. Following the critical and commercial success of Blood and Candle Smoke, Russell toured relentlessly. Included in his road escapades was another train tour, with songwriters Dave Alvin, Steve Young, and Thad Beckman. Russell went to work on another album in 2010; he recorded in studios in Texas, Los Angeles, Tucson, and Nashville with co-producer Barry Walsh. The end result, Mesabi, once more included appearances by Calexico, as well as Van Dyke Parks, Viktor Krauss, Will Kimbrough, and Gretchen Peters. The album was advanced by a pre-release download single; a striking cover of Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," featuring Lucinda Williams and Calexico. The album's final cut, "Road to Nowhere," was used as the title cut for director Monte Hellman's film of the same name. Mesabi was released on September 6, 2011.
Russell spent the next couple of years painting and touring -- often on trains with other artists including Peter Case and Dave Alvin. His next offering was the iconoclastic Aztec Jazz in 2013 with the Norwegian Wind Ensemble. It was followed by the unprecedented Rose of Roscrae; "the first frontier musical written in the West, by a westerner." The set included 25 new songs and traditional numbers performed not only by Russell but an extended cast that included Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, John Trudell, Gretchen Peters, Tex Ritter, and a dozen more. It was released in April of 2015. ~ Johnny Loftus & Thom Jurek