Tom Russell

Raw Vision: The Tom Russell Band 1984-1994

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Raw Vision is a compilation from the Tom Russell Band's Rounder/Philo recordings. As such it is a competent, somewhat representative, but nowhere near thorough enough collection of Russell's best music for the label. One reason is that while these tunes offer a glance at the true gift of his vocation as a songwriter, they don't capture the true flavor of the albums these tracks come from. While there isn't a weak track in the bunch, none of them stand out the way they did on his albums -- all of which were conceived that way -- and they don't completely capture the flair and drama that Russell and his mates could conjure when fully in it. Perhaps what should have been done was to cull through the songwriter's vast catalog of personal live recordings and issue either a gig or the live versions of these songs, which one suspects would have held up better. This set doesn't begin to get at the complexity, darkness, and "raw vision" Russell has in spades when he records an album -- at least a double disc might have been a better taste of that. One has to wonder, as a longtime fan of Russell's, about the track selection here. It feels haphazard and lazy; too many of his finest songs were left off. Russell is a great storyteller and a fine singer. He has practiced his craft to a precision point and most of what's here reveals that. But why "Angel of Lyon" was left off or "Manzanar" or "William Faulkner in Hollywood" is only a puzzle that is frustratingly left unanswered. To be fair, however, this does serve as a somewhat suitable introduction to a fine American songwriter who has fiercely blazed his own trail and who hasn't gotten nearly his due when it comes to influencing others. For hardcore fans there are three bonus tracks, including the unreleased demos of "Oil Field Girl, " and "Hong Kong Boy," as well as "Denver Wind," that was on the European version of Poor Man's Dream.

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