Tom Russell's The Rose of Roscrae is the final album in a trilogy that began back in 1998 with The Man from God Knows Where. That recording explored his family's origins in Norway, Ireland, and the American West. He followed it with 2005's Hotwalker, which looked deeply at post-WWII American culture and mythologized sometimes marginal figures from the worlds of art, film, literature, and more.
Tom Russell is the renaissance man of Americana: a novelist, criminologist, artist and singer-songwriter with an earthy, gutsy voice. This ambitious folk opera is two and a half hours long – it mixes his own eclectic songs with traditional material, and is performed by a celebrity cast that includes Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Gretchen Peters, with archive recordings of everyone from Walt Whitman to Lead Belly, Johnny Cash, AL Lloyd and Bonnie Dobson added in. The narrative of an Irish boy travelling to the American west in the 1880s allows Russell to mix Irish influences with cowboy ballads, gospel, Mexican and even French-Canadian songs.
Tom Russell’s sprawling double The Rose Of Roscrae views the old frontier lands from the vantage point of an Irish lad who arrives in the US in the late 1880s with the desire to become a cowhand. Billed as a cowboy folk opera, and part of a trilogy that began with The Man From God Knows Where and Hotwalker, Russell has called in collaborative favours from a staggering cast that includes Joe Ely, Bonnie Dobson, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Augie Meyers and the Norwegian Wind Ensemble; his journeys across West Texas in the company of Guy Clark and Dan Penn hark back to a time when concept extravaganzas were encouraged. Essentially cinematic in scope and deliciously varied, the main man is somewhat reminiscent of Robert Hunter in that he digs up nuggets from a wealth of sources.