Though not a conceptual narrative like his earlier Hotwalker
, Love & Fear
is Tom Russell offering a rootsy, Southwestern evocation of what Frank Sinatra called "the September of my years"--an album of thematically related material that ranks with his finest. The "love" of the title, in its infinite variety, permeates every track, while the "fear" is less fear of getting old or fear of death than, perhaps, fear of not making the most then of what he knows now. And knowing, in a lustful song such as "Beautiful Trouble," that he's capable of making those same mistakes (if they are mistakes) all over again. The bittersweet romanticism of "The Pugilist at 59" and "Ash Wednesday" could make converts of Springsteen diehards, the narrative of "Stolen Children" is about as bitter as Russell gets, and the rockier propulsion of "Stealing Electricity" and "Four Chambered Heart" pushes his music into edgier territory. "It All Goes Away" and "All the Fine Young Ladies" cast Russell as the older-and-wiser sage, while there's a hint of supper-club lounge in the closing "Old Heart." The spirit of the album feels like a benediction, but the creative vitality suggests that Russell has plenty more to offer. --Don McLeese
Tom Russell was born in Los Angeles and now makes his home on the border in El Paso, Texas. He taught school for a year in Nigeria, during the Biafrant War. He lived in Spain, then relocated to Vancouver, B.C., where he started at the bottom of the music business, playing in the strip bars along skid row. With Love & Fear, Tom shakes off his folk troubadour shackles to bare his soul with his most personal recording to date. Rhino. 2006.