Tom Russell Borderland

The veteran singer/songwriter's latest album is a cycle dealing with life along the U.S./Mexico border. Unlike the almost straight reportage from the area that Bruce Springsteen deployed on The Ghost Of Tom Joad, Russell keeps his eye on personal matters, which results in his concept of borders not having much of a political tinge to it. However, Borderland is still rooted in the same dusty isolation and stories of the simple folk who live there. With a voice and swagger that recalls Waylon Jennings, Russell proves to be a fine storyteller in the Texas tradition through most of the album, with the smuggler tale "The Hills of Old Juarez" and train ballad "The Next Thing Smokin'" emerging as standouts. The production by former Lucinda Williams right-hand-man Gurf Morlix is a little too clean considering the subject matter, but the songs are able to stand on their own. Maybe Russell should have taken Lucinda's cue from Car Wheels On A Gravel Road and had a few other producers take a crack at the material, but for fans of pure Texas songwriting, Borderland is worth a listen. (Hightone)