Until further notice, this is the best record of the year. Period.
Tom Russell’s work has been interpreted by Johnny Cash, Dave Alvin, Jerry Jeff Walker and many others, but Russell has, inexplicably, flown under the mainstream radar for the duration of his career. The fact is, Russell is one of an elite group of living songwriters (Steve Earle and Peter Case among them) whose work has improved exponentially as their careers have progressed.
Blood and Candle Smoke may not bring Russell to the forefront of public consciousness, but it does serve as an astonishing reminder of his career evolution and devotion to his craft. Russell may be every bit the grizzled borderland barfly that his singing voice suggest, but his is a poet’s heart and here, backed by Calexico, Russell unleashes a cannon blast of evocative, razor-sharp lyricism, blowing the doors off of anything I’ve heard this year. I would say that Blood and Candle Smoke will be remembered as Russell’s masterwork but he’s obviously got plenty of gas left in the tank and miles to go before that proverbial sleep. Judging by his body of work, I have every reason to believe he’ll bleed that tank dry getting to the finish line, much to our benefit.