Tom Russell

The new disc from Texas songwriter Tom Russell is even less conventional than his experimental, and hugely successful, “folk opera” The Man From God Knows Where (1999). While The Man… is a song cycle about American immigration and the settling of the West, Hotwalker is a history of the late 20th century West itself, particularly of its outcasts: poets, musicians, jockeys and circus freaks. With only three or four actual “songs” (depending on your definition), the CD features a fascinating and interconnected compilation of new and old spoken-word recordings, including a benediction by Edward Abbey, a reading from On the Road by Jack Kerouac, poetry by Charles Bukowski and stand-up by Lenny Bruce. The scene-stealer, though, is the hotwalker himself, Little Jack Horton, a circus little person who died shortly after the disc was recorded and whose rants about “real goddamn heroes” and “real goddamn Americans” (Johnny Cash, Ray Charles) are both hilarious and profoundly moving. Hotwalker is an epic poem itself, a eulogy to an America lost to pretense, fraud and strip malls.