Last time out, on The Man From God Knows Where, Tom Russell (along with a stack of musical guests) played fast and loose with time and place, spinning a great sprawling tale of his family’s European origins and their lives in the New World. This time Russell focuses the action around his new home on the El Paso/Juarez frontier, with only two backing vocalists, Eliza Gilkyson and Jimmy LaFave, helping out the five-piece band.
Using the border as a metaphor for the chasm between men and women, hope and despair, past and present, Russell presents eleven finely honed vignettes. Waking from an alcoholic stupor near the Rio Grande, a fool sees his girl hit the trail, a flash of blue dress and a silk stocking the sad reminder of all that he’s lost. A love-and-lust-besotted loser turns to drug-running to satisfy the grasping Inez, his showdown with the narcs a pitiful echo of the battle between Pancho Villa and Blackjack Pershing. When the California snow claims an illegal immigrant, the border agent who finds her is as displaced as the victim.
Into this landscape, as tactile as the rock and the prickly pear of Juarez, wander a phantasmagoric clutch of other characters: “old Blind Joe Death in his alligator shoes” (most likely guitar icon John Fahey, who died in February), Ava Gardner, Orson Welles. Their presence, whether menacing or humorous, broadens the context and deepens the resonance of Russell’s stories. Tex-Mex, edgy folk, and a little electric rock predominate.