During his 30-year career, Tom Russell has released many critically acclaimed singer-songwriter albums and written songs that were recorded by everyone from Johnny Cash and Guy Clark, to k.d. lang and Suzy Boggus. Tom also has released five albums of country-western songs, with the emphasis on western. His latest effort is Indians Cowboys Horses Dogs.
Tom Russell's new CD opens with a song he wrote for Los Rancho Vistadores riders, a group of doctors and lawyers who like to play cowboy.
"They get together once a year in the hills above Santa Barbara [California] and ride horses and network and drink," he said. "No women are allowed. I don't get that, but it's an old tradition. So, these guys are acting out. I wrote them this song, sort of tongue-in-cheek. 'Tonight We Ride, Boys.'"
On Indians Cowboys Horses Dogs, Tom Russell explores a variety of Western themes, including a lament for the West that was, versus the West that is today. "The Ballad of Edward Abbey" is a political song about the changing ways in the desert. It's based on Tom's own battle against developers in El Paso.
"I thought I had moved from densest Park Slope Brooklyn [New York] out to the wilds of west Texas," he said. "I'm about five miles [eight kilometers] out of town, but I looked up one day and saw the housing tracts coming and the Wal-Mart [department store] down the way. It's inevitable in a way, but I really have a hard time accepting it. A couple hundred of us out there are involved in a group called 'Save the Valley,' just trying to save the last piece of greenbelt farm land."
Another highlight is a tender love song about aging and loss that Tom Russell co-wrote with Cowboy Poet Paul Zarzyski. It's called "Bucking Horse Moon."
Is there something so romantic about that whole ideal, that 'cowboy-ness' "Well, it's all related to the landscape," he said. "The sky, and the desert, and the mesquite trees. These people, and I am, these people are really enamored by the landscape, which dictates everything. And the weather, which dictates everything. And the seasons, which the guy is talking about in the song, and aging. They're very close to the earth out there, I think. A lot more than people in the East are."
Unlike some overhyped pieces of music merchandise, Tom Russell's Indians Cowboys Horses Dogs is just what the sticker on the wrapper reads: It's a music overview of a time passed, a loving tribute to the Old West.