Few songwriters are more closely associated with the term "Americana" than Tom Russell. Through his music, artwork and books, the Texan has explored the mythos of American culture as his own personal vision spooled amid the threads of history. Yet even he admits that the genre has become a diluted, shallow reservoir in contemporary music.
"You know, [Americana] means nothing anymore; they've killed it," Russell says from his El Paso home. "I've been around long enough and come up in the business since the 1970s, so I've had plenty of time to back up and look at what's happening. Frankly speaking, it's just bullshit. We were kind of stuck with that label, but it just meant whatever didn't fit into country, rock or pop, but the problem is labels get watered down and ruined."
Russell's latest album, then, seems almost a testament to the lost genre. Released this week, Lost Angels of Lyon is a bar-band live set recorded in France in 1989, featuring covers of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits and Gram Parsons alongside classic Russell tunes like "Veteran's Day" and "Spanish Burgundy." In the next year, he also hopes to complete the third part of his multimedia American Trilogy, which includes 1999's immigrant masterpiece The Man from God Knows Where, and 2005's beat-poets montage Hotwalker. The final chapter is a film 15 years in the making, documenting the life of his brother's wife, Claudia Russell.
Tom Russell performs 8 p.m. Saturday, February 16, at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, 713-528-5999.
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"She's one of the last great Western women, ranching alone for 30 years on 3,000 acres in California," he offers. "There's still mountain lions that come to her house; she had to shoot two black bears in her kitchen that were comin' at her. I thought if I could open her up and get an oral history from her and get some of this on film, I'd have a really raw and truthful record of the West in the eyes of a woman."