Love and Fear
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2006, Volume 13, #3
Written by Tracy M. Rogers
Tom Russell is a songwriter in the tradition of the many great, southern storytellers. His narratives incorporate wit, spirituality, and tales of everyday life into a distinctly Dixie-bred backdrop of delta blues, í60s country, folk, and rock. His latest effort, the aptly titled Love and Fear, explores loss, loneliness, hope, and desperation, all of which are entangled into songs about lessons that are learned with age. While not a conceptual work, per se, Love and Fear possesses a thematic universality that binds each of its tracks together. Musically, it runs the gamut from gloriously grand to quietly contemplative, and each tune contains some insight into the main themes that form the albumís title.
The Pugilist at 59, Love and Fearís opening track, is a blues-rock anthem about the continued search for love and the fear of lost passion that comes with growing older; while Beautiful Trouble is a haunting yet sexy, spoken-word ballad about the downside of being a touring musician that is set to reverb guitars and hand percussion. Elsewhere, Russell pays tribute to the lonely pilgrims of Ash Wednesday and ponders the end of a relationship in K. C. Violin. The former is an ambitious, soaring pop-rock duet with Gretchen Peters; the latter is an intimate ballad with religious underpinnings that is underscored with mellow guitar and mournful accordion.
The true high points of Love and Fear, however, are Old Heartís folk-jazz ruminations on age and contrition; the down and dirty blues boogie Four Chambered Heart; and the musingly baleful All the Fine Young Ladies. Consisting almost entirely of smoking guitars, twanging dobro, and thunderous percussion, Four Chambered Heart is a scathing critique of todayís society during which Russell expounds upon everything from the pedophilia scandal plaguing the Catholic church to "wars of drama and control." What he finds is that anger, passion, hatred, and envy are all just different faces of fear. With its eerie guitar and echoing percussion, All the Fine Young Ladies, conversely, is the wistful tale of a recovering alcoholic who is trying to come to terms with his romantic regrets and failures.
Nevertheless, itís Old Heart that is, perhaps, Russellís finest contribution to Love and Fear. Full of organ swells and stuttering brush drums, the song finds him crooning in his remarkably flexible (and ironically fearless) baritone, chiding himself to get out of bed and face the world. In his angst, some of Russellís most poignant observations about love and fear can be found: love is wasted on the young; no matter how bleak the picture, the heart survives; and fear should not act as an excuse or cause for hiding from life.
Love and Fear is a musical journey into Tom Russellís personal landscape, and it is a glimpse into his world view as well as the wisdom that he has found with age. At times, it is a joyous adventure. Other moments are ironic, cynical, and even brokenhearted. Through it all, Russell provides food for thought and a musical structure that, augmented by his minimalist arrangements, makes Love and Fear both bewitching and profound. Ĺ
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box