Tom Russell Love & Fear

Tom Russell has long been a rather revered figure in the Americana singer-songwriter world, but to these ears, he has always been more convincing as a writer than a singer. Previously, his voice has seemed to lack some of the authority or distinctiveness of those who have covered his songs, an impressive list that includes Johnny Cash, Joe Ely, Doug Sahm and Tysons Ian and Sylvia. Age and apparent tough times have added recent steel to that voice, however, thanks perhaps to what he refers to as "three years of desolation and heartbreak” leading up to this record. Whatever the demons behind it, Russell has come up with arguably his best work. It doesn’t hurt to have the great Gurf Morlix (Lucinda Williams) on board as co-producer and slide guitarist, while other accompanists include Andrew Hardin, Fats Kaplin and Rick Richards (of Georgia Satellites fame), with Gretchen Peters adding sweet duet and harmony vocals. Russell has been influenced by the beat poets, and possesses real skill as a lyricist. Shame about the annoyingly banal "da-da-da-das” on "Stealing Electricity,” but redemption comes with the eloquently angry "Four Chambered Heart.” (Hightone)