Tom Russell

The Long Way Around (Acoustic Collection)

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Tom Russell has been releasing terrific records without pause since the mid-'70s, and this acoustic, mostly live retrospective package may be the best of the bunch. In fact, after listening to its 17 tracks -- which include duets with Nanci Griffith, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and others -- the only remaining question about Russell is: Why isn't this guy very, very famous? Sure, you can hear lots of influences here -- everyone from Merle Haggard and Buck Owens to Ian Tyson (a sometime collaborator) and Bob Dylan. But the end product is an artist with an instantly recognizable, personal sound. It's a little bit country, a little bit folk, a little bit rock, with lots of great picking, lilting melodies, and consistently first-rate lyrics that sound like the result of experience and conviction, not the desire to impress or score hits -- but he sure does impress. There isn't a clunker in the bunch, but if forced to pick highlights, one might list "Beyond the Blues," a duet with Gilmore; "U.S. Steel," with guitar and vocal reminiscent of early Johnny Cash; "Walkin' on the Moon," which Russell wrote and performs with Katy Moffat; and "Gallo del Cielo," an exuberant south-of the-border excursion.

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