Tom Russell

Museum of Memories 1972-2002

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Museum of Memories 1972-2002, a career-spanning collection of Tom Russell's live and studio obscurities, is so good that it's hard to believe these are the leftovers. It's also hard to understand why Russell resisted releasing this jam-packed 80-minute collection, but as he admits in the liner notes, "I am not a good critic of my own stuff." The 20-track program, which covers 30 years in chronological order, does begin slowly, with relatively prosaic melodies and forgettable lyrics that may be of interest mostly just to serious fans. But the album kicks into high gear by the fourth cut, and there's rarely a weak moment after that. Songs like the accordion-spiced "La Galue (The Glutton)" and the atmospheric "Chinatown in the Rain," both from the '80s, find Russell in top form as both storyteller and music maker. Other highlights include a spirited cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Shut Out the Light"; "Hank & Audrey," a song about Hank Williams and his wife that Russell wrote with Katy Moffatt; and "Biggest Bordertown," a haunting collaboration with Bob Neuwirth. There's no question that the artist has continued to progress since he recorded these tracks; overall, 2002's Modern Art is a more mature affair. But Russell's early stuff holds up extremely well. After hearing it, you'll be glad to read in the liner notes that "there is easily enough strong material for additional releases -- the second volume is pretty much in the can already, if this one is successful."

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