“Pray your passion ain’t used up and gone,” Tom Russell declares in the opening minutes of Love & Fear. On his first album of all original songs since 2001′s Borderland, Russell demonstrates an undiminished passion for his art with penetrating songs about the two title subjects.
On “The Pugilist At 59″, the leadoff track, Russell uses a boxing metaphor in analyzing a man whose biggest bout is with himself. Andrew Hardin, Russell’s longtime accompanist, contributes imaginative guitar work, even imitating an alarm clock to kick off the song.
“Stealing Electricity”, inspired by a Mexican electrocuted on a power line, warns of the dangers of a half-hearted quest for love. “Beautiful Trouble” and “Four Chamber Heart” recall last year’s Hotwalker disc as Russell opts for spoken-word delivery with mixed results. The former is derivative of Tom Waits and plods on for nearly seven minutes; the latter is more effective, a rant against contemporary society (modern parenting, organized religion) with sizzling blues backing to match its rhetoric.
Russell switches gears for “The Sound Of One Heart Beating”, a wistful country ballad co-written with Sylvia Tyson, that shows the tender side of his persona. “Ash Wednesday”, a duet with Gretchen Peters, mixes spiritual and romantic imagery in a tale of failed love and the wounds that remain.
Russell has said the songs on Love & Fear emerged “out of three years of heartbreak and desolation.” In this case, his pain is the listener’s gain.