There's a couplet in "When Legends Die" that expresses what drives Mesabi, songwriter Tom Russell's latest effort: "Well, most of 'em are gone, but they fly around/Like angels in my unconscious mind...." Full of musically and lyrically imaginative legends, myths, elegies, and homages, the songs on Mesabi speak readily from the very grain of Russell's craft. It is named for the iron range in northern Minnesota near Hibbing, the birthplace of Bob Dylan, the muse of this set. Russell makes no apologies: the title track quotes from "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright," its chord structure borrows -- liberally -- from "Love Minus Zero/No Limit." Near album's end is "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," with Lucinda Williams and Calexico.
The title of Tom Russell’s new album, Mesabi, refers to the Mesabi Iron Range in northeastern Minnesota, one of the world’s largest deposits of iron ore, a cold, inhospitable place where hard people do hard work. But in Russell’s world, and that of many fans of modern music, the Mesabi Range and the nearby town of Hibbing stand for something very different, even mythical: as Russell puts it, that region is “the Bethlehem of the Troubadour Kid”, Robert Allan Zimmerman, or, as he later renamed himself, Bob Dylan. Dylan is one subject of this compelling album’s title song; Russell himself is another.
The Mesabi Iron Range is in Minnesota. Described as the chief deposit of iron ore in the US, it's also the location of Hibbing, birthplace of Bob Dylan. Like many singer-songwriters approaching retirement age, Tom Russell takes great inspiration from Dylan, so Mesabi uses that as a jumping-off point for a collection of songs tying together cultural icons James Dean and Marilyn Monroe and obscure historical figures Sterling Hayden and Ukulele Ike with places real and imaginary: Juarez, Mexico, and Never Never Land.