First Appeared at The Music Box, July 2003, Volume 10, #7
Written by John Metzger
For the most part, Modern Art — Tom Russell’s tenth outing — is fairly typical singer/songwriter fare. Throughout the album, he presents a mixture of originals and covers (provided by Emmylou Harris, Dave Alvin, Nanci Griffith, and others), and the arrangements pit Russell’s deep voice against frequently sleepy accompaniments. Dig a little deeper, however, and one is apt to find several gems amidst the morass of mediocrity. The Kid from Spavinaw is a cinematic allegory of Mickey Mantle’s life that subtly draws the connection between his personal path of excess and the American way. American Hotel (by songwriter Carl Brouse) recalls the passing of Stephen Foster and bleakly imagines the artist drunk, penniless, and lost in an alcohol-soaked haze. The Dutchman — written by Michael Smith, but popularized by Steve Goodman — is a bittersweet tale of memories and love as a man loses his grip on reality. And the title track — one of the few up-tempo tunes on the album — is an autobiographical portrait set against the backdrop of American history. The rest of the album features some great songs too, such as a duet with Nanci Griffith on her classic Gulf Coast Highway, but most of the performances lack the emotional resonance necessary to make such stark arrangements compelling. ˝
Of Further Interest...
Modern Art is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box