Songwriter Tom Russell has long been possessed by the ghosts and places of history, big and small, from William Faulkner and outlaw Claude Dallas to Jack Johnson, Little Willie John and Bill Haley, from Manzanar to Begenfield. There are also dozens of nameless, faceless denizens barely hanging on to the fringes on both sides of the border, cheated endlessly by life yet becoming archetypes in the American myth of Russell's songs. Hotwalker is subtitled "Charles Bukowski and a Ballad for Gone America." This is Russell's latest conceptual work, a palette of excess lovingly offered to the heroes of his life, those that defined for him the America that has been erased from the popular psychic topography and has entered into the hallways of myth and memory. This is a record of Russell's aesthetic life and era. Bukowski is the big patron saint in these songs and monologues, as are Dave Van Ronk, Edward Abbey, Jack Kerouac, Harry Partch, Ramblin Jack Elliot, and fabled circus performer Little Jack Horton. The voices of many of these icons waft through the proceedings. Horton was recorded specifically for this offering, but Abbey, Bukowski, Kerouac (accompanied by Steve Allen), Lenny Bruce and Partch are all here too. Singling out these songs would be a disservice to Russell and to this recording. This is the most haggard of Russell's albums. It's a wreck in many ways, full of bloated lines and hackneyed melodies and near ranted spoken word pieces. But it hardly matters because polish isn't what fuels a project like this; inspiration is. And Hotwalker is drenched in inspiration, possessed by it, compelled and driven by it to realize something beyond speech or music; some spectral presence hovers here, and remains for a bit after the set ends. That is its achievement: that one can not only feel Russell's passion, but can nearly see the scenes and people he portrays here. This is not easy listening, but it just may be necessary.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek