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Tom Russell | October in the Railroad Earth

The cowboy troubadour spins another disc of richly detailed stories and songs.

For some songwriters, it’s all about the melodies. For others, it’s the arrangements. For Tom Russell, it’s all about the stories. Over the course of 30-some albums and 40-some years, the Americana pioneer has been spinning rich, compelling narratives of life, death, love, music, his family, cowboys and the American West. His umpteenth full-length October in the Railroad Earth is no exception. He waxes nostalgic about old bars he used to play, handling hand-raised wolverines in Edmonton and chasing armed cattle rustlers on his brother’s ranch. He spins tales of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, the night Merle Haggard died, the adventures of Jack Kerouac and even the guy who mows his lawn. Whatever the subject and whoever the star, however, every story is as superbly detailed and entertainingly told as a well-written piece of prose. And of course, they’re all delivered in Russell’s warm, Johnny Cash-level baritone and set against a backdrop of twangy boom-chicka country, melancholy fingerpicked folk, gnarly roots-rock grit and accordion-fuelled Tex-Mex waltzes. He wasn’t the first of the cowboy singers and he may not be the last. But October in the Railroad Earth conclusively reaffirms that he’s almost certainly one of the finest ever to strum a guitar. All aboard.