Published May 19, 2017Tom Russell was as integral to the revival of cowboy singing and its emergence from the folk revivals of the 1960s as Ian Tyson.
Russell, Tyson, and his then-wife Sylvia worked in seedy taverns in pre-gentrified Vancouver, and both moved from the folk revival to an interest in writing new songs in the cowboy tradition, and Play One More is a continuation of that career. Though it's a cover record of Ian and Sylvia's songs, and features two demos of her songs as codas, it still seems closer to Russell's original work.
Sylvia's song "The Night the Chinese Restaurant Burnt Down," for example, a song about the end of canning factories and the destruction of a local business "sometime after World War II" is about the knotty problems of ambitious women and the death of small towns; in Russell's cover, the narrative is maintained, but the nuance is lost.
He treats Ian's songs with much more respect. Russell's new version of "Old Cheyenne" finds he and Tyson trading ideas of the West, and the problem of the rodeo, mournfully. Like the Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson duets album a few years ago, it's rife with the feeling of mutual love between two old men: for stories, geography and for each other. Documents of this kind of friendship are rare.
If you know Russell's work, or are in love with Ian Tyson's work, this album is a necessary document, but a hermetic one, sealed against casual observers. (True North)