Tom Russell Band

Road to Bayamon

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Good luck trying to pigeonhole Tom Russell based on the fine Road to Bayamon, which manages to sound cohesive while wandering all over the musical map. "Home Before Dark," one of several numbers here that he later re-recorded with country-soul singer Barrence Whitfield, is a radio-ready rocker, with a great hook and prominent guitar; the vocal and guitar on the equally fine "U.S. Steel," on the other hand, sound something like early Johnny Cash. And then there's "Alkali," a great relic from Russell's folky days with Patricia Hardin; and a surprisingly strong, faithful-to-the-original cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Fire." Not everything scores a homer: The lackluster vocals on Tom Waits' wonderful "Downtown Train," the album's other cover, seem particularly weak when compared with Rod Stewart's definitive version. But this CD -- which gets a big boost from the pedal steel, fiddle, and accordion of Fats Kaplin -- contains far more highlights than disappointments.

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