I really enjoyed Tom Russell's last release, "Blood and Candlesmoke", and wasn't sure that he would be able to match that album's quality. Well, he has! "Mesabi" is well worth an hour of anyone's time!
The first half of the album seems to be linked by a theme of faded or lost celebrity, mentioning James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, once well-known singer Cliff "Ukulele Ike" Edwards (who provided voices for Disney, including singing "When You Wish Upon a Star"), the Disney child actor Jimmy Driscoll (Jim Hawkins in "Treasure Island") and the character actor Sterling Hayden. Tom is joined once again by Calaxico and their moody, filmic sound adds greatly to this often meloncholic suite of songs. And then in the middle of it all, there's the song about Cliff Edwards, "The Lonesome Death of Ukelele Ike", which is incredibly jaunty and features a few lines from "Paper Moon", one of Edwards' early successes.
The second half of the album is more typical Russell, with lots of, sometimes half spoken, story telling backed the excellent playing of the Calaxico lads. Stand out tracks on this half of the album are "Roll the Credits Johnny" and "Jai Alai".
Tacked on at the end are two bonus tracks, a version of Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall", where he's joined by Lucinda Williams, and "The Road to Nowhere" from the film of the same name. Tom's version of "Hard Rain" is fine but adds nothing to the many other versions I've heard.
So, a great collection! I'm never really sure where Tom Russell fits - is he country? Folk? Jazz? I don't know, maybe he fits all these genres, but I do know that it's difficult not to be impressed by his music!