Tom Russell @ Whelans 14th July 2013

Roll up; roll up for the great Tom Russell extravaganza! Hold tight as this train is travelling at top speed towards the recapture of the human spirit. What was once assumed lost has only been missing and the treasure hunt at Whelan’s begins with tales of Bob Dylan and his early Duluth beginnings; of Peter Pan and the sad descent of actor Bobby Driscoll into his own dark never, never land.

We are regaled with memories of Tom’s ancestors and their great journey west from the lands of Norway and Ireland. We learn of the new CD release Aztec Jazz with the company of the Norwegian Wind Ensemble and their live renditions of classic songs from Russell’s extensive back catalogue. Unfortunately all 32 members of the wind ensemble cannot fit on the simply lit Whelan’s stage, so we are left with the talents of two supremely gifted f travellers: Tom Russell and Thad Beckman.

Truly one of the last of a dying breed, the rebel in Tom Russell is never far from the surface as he recounts tales from his career as a songwriter, poet, painter and raconteur. He commands the stage with a larger than life strut and asks that we join him on a trip that invites on board cowboys, dreamers, lovers, renegades and true believers.

In Tom Russell’s eyes true Country Music died with the arrival of the big hat brigade, in the shape of Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw, but the true heart still beats on in the memory and inspired writing of this songwriter. You are bound to hear an old favourite with most of the first set this evening concentrating on the new release, along with songs from Mesabi and the more recent releases among his 28 recordings so far. Guadalupe and Goodnight Juarez conjure up imagery of life on the Mexican Border with his tales of El Paso, where Tom Russell lives, adding to the colour of the lyrics. Jai Alai, the Mexican ball game, is also played along with Stealing Electricity and Nina Simone. Spoken tributes are also paid to Ian Tyson, Johnny Cash and Dave Alvin, among the many greats that he has encountered along the way. 

In the second set we are treated to Navajo Rug, Blue Wing, East of Woodstock, West of Vietnam,  St. Olav’s Gate, Tonight We Ride and two songs from a new folk opera, yet to be completed. A love song written for his wife, Finding  You is beautifully performed and the equally touching Where Love Abides follows in a similar vein.

The wonderful solo runs of Thad Beckman lift the songs throughout and never more so than in a section that pays tribute to the legendary blues players of old, with Lightning  Hopkins and Mississippi John Hurt featured in a bottleneck display of the highest order. A medley of US Steel and Veteran’s Day closes the show before a second encore pays tribute to Johnny Cash with two songs that tip a hat to the past and the inspiration of former artists; a very generous way to say goodnight to an ecstatic Dublin audience.

Tom Russell speaks of no limitations and of free thinking. He is a natural storyteller and one of the greatest songwriters of his generation. Full marks to Roadworks Tours for bringing this great talent to our shores and they deserve great credit for promoting quality artists that need to be heard. Check out future gigs on

Review by Paul McGee. Photograph by Ronnie Norton