Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Tom Rush: “Voices” (2018) CD Review

When I was first getting into folk music in my teens, Tom Rush’s voice was one I heard a lot. He had so many excellent and well-known recordings. Even friends that didn’t know folk music knew of Tom Rush. So when I read that his new album, Voices, was the first to feature almost entirely original music, I couldn’t believe it. How could that be true? It’s not that he hadn’t written original material before – of course he had (songs like “No Regrets” and “Mink Julip” spring to mind) – but his original material never dominated an album the way it does here. Well, I’m happy to find that his songwriting is as strong now as it ever was, if not stronger. Tom Rush also has some talented musicians backing him on this release, including Sam Bush and Al Perkins. By the way, Tom Rush offers some thoughts on each of the songs in the CD’s liner notes.

Though Voices contains mostly original material, it actually opens with a cover (one of only two on the album), “Elder Green.” This rendition is quite a bit different from the blues versions I’m familiar with. This is a lively, happy-sounding version, featuring Sam Bush on mandolin, Al Perkins on dobro, Leroy Troy on banjo, and Jim Hoke on harmonica. There are also some wonderful backing vocals by Kathy Mattea, Suzi Ragsdale, and Matt Nakoa (Matt Nakoa is also on keys). This is a fun opening track. It’s followed by “Come See About Me,” a cheerful tune with some blues elements. This song makes me feel good, and these days that is something I appreciate even more than usual. I like Matt Nakoa’s work on piano, but what I love most is Tom Rush’s delivery, particularly when he dips into those lower registers. There is something simple about the song’s structure and lyrics, yet also completely delightful. “Hey, little mamma, you’re the one I love/You know that to be true/Hey, little mamma, you’re the one I love/I hate to see you blue.”

“My Best Girl” is a song about a special gal; that is, a special guitar. It’s an entertaining country song full of affection and joy. “She’s not as young as she once was/She’s got the scars from the miles we’ve shared/When it rains, she’s my silver lining/When it’s darker than the darkest night/When everything’s wrong and nothing’s right/My best girl, oh, she comes shining.” I love the little laugh in Tom’s voice as he sings “I don’t dance, but she don’t mind.” Suzi Ragsdale provides harmony vocals. That’s followed by “Life Is Fine.” The whistling at the beginning works so well with the song’s title, for it makes me feel that life truly is fine. “Life is fine” is a message we need to hear fairly often nowadays, a helpful and necessary reminder not to let anger and despair overtake us. This song had me laughing at moments, as when Tom Rush sings “She says she’ll love me when I’m old/And fat and getting fatter.” There is joy here, and Tom’s voice is honest and friendly, and with a good amount of experience to make his assertion believable. His is exactly the right voice for this song. There is more whistling toward the end. Yes, life is fine, at least as long as this music is playing.

“Far Away” is a sweet and pretty song, and is probably my favorite track from this album. I find myself just playing it over and over. I love his delivery, intimate and sharing with us a bit of bliss. And check out these excellent lyrics: “The blossom is such beauty, but the blooming is too brief/As beauty is a treasure, time’s a thief/Yesterday steals tomorrow, tomorrow steals today/So come my love, come, let’s steal away.” This song is wonderful, and is making me long for my girlfriend. Ah, she and I want to go far away. “Far away, far away/Tell my troubles I’m not home today/Just lie here in my arms, and we’ll sing another song/Tell the world we’ve gone so far away.

The album’s second (and final) cover is an easygoing, cool rendition of “Corina, Corina,” featuring some nice work on harmonica by Jim Hoke. That’s followed by “If I Never Get Back To Hackensack.” This must be the only song that begins with the line “Now I just love New Jersey” (and perhaps is the only song to express that sentiment at all), but the song goes in perhaps a different direction as it gets going. “If I never get back to Hackensack, it’ll be all right with me.” This song is another delight, and features Sam Bush on mandolin. Jim Hoke plays harmonica and Jew’s harp (or jaw harp, as it is more often called these days), and Richard Bennett plays bouzouki. The album concludes with its title track, “Voices.” This song has its own beauty, and features Sam Bush on mandolin and Al Perkins on pedal steel guitar. “There are voices at the ocean’s edge, voices in the foam/Singing songs of high adventure, singing songs of going home.”

CD Track List
  1. Elder Green
  2. Come See About Me
  3. My Best Girl
  4. Life Is Fine
  5. Cold River
  6. Far Away
  7. Heaven Knows
  8. Corina, Corina
  9. If I Never Get Back To Hackensack
  10. Going Down To Nashville
  11. How Can She Dance Like That?
  12. Voices
Voices is scheduled to be released on April 27, 2018 on Appleseed Recordings.

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