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An affordable way to discover a great songwriter

Veteran's Day: The Tom Russell Anthology
Veteran's Day: The Tom Russell Anthology
By Tom Russell

Shout! Factory: 2008

This review first appeared in Turbula in December 2008.

He's never had a hit, but everyone from Johnny Cash to Nanci Griffith, Shawn Colvin to Suzy Bogguss, Dave Alvin to Jimmie Dale Gilmore have either recorded with him or covered his songs. He can write everything from honky-tonk country tear-jerkers to the purest rock 'n' roll.

In short, Tom Russell is the best songwriter most folks have never heard of.

A new two-disc retrospective offers the opportunity to correct that unfortunate situation at an affordable price.

A gifted composer whose songs tell perfectly constructed stories about life on the fringe of polite society, Russell is also a tremendously gifted singer with a fine, expressive voice. The combination of superb material and stellar performance has proved consistent since the mid-'70s, as "Veteran's Day" shows. The richness of this collection is that it draws on all of his albums, even as he bounced from Rounder Records to HighTone. There's even a cut from his unlikely pairing with '80s alternative R&B singer Barrence Whitfield.

Mostly what's here, though, is the magic of such songs as "U.S. Steel," "Haley's Comet," "The Pugilist at 59," "The Rose of San Joaquin" – songs that have drawn comparisons to Dylan and Guthrie and Cash. Those who have discovered Russell find it inconceivable that he's not rich and famous; what's found on these two discs only makes that reality that much more confounding.