Tom Russell with Andrew Hardin, April 8, 2004

Tom Russell with Andrew Hardin, Lighthouse Theatre, Port Dover, Ontario, Canada (April 8, 2004)

The last time I saw Tom Russell, with his confrere Andrew Hardin, was at the Lighthouse Theatre in Port Dover. That was a couple of years ago. Last week I went, again with my musical compatriot Wayne, and new recruit Rick, to the same venue for another look. Russell and Hardin had a free night between a show in Toronto and one in Chicago. They were a late addition to the series, which led to a rather disappointing turnout. But a small crowd does not necessarily equal a bad show. We felt like we were the fortunate winners of a private show; that's how intimate the setting is. The new seats are comfortable and attractive, and the sight lines are unbeatable.

Russell, who continues to play the beat-up black Collings guitar, was chatty, friendly, and warm. He introduced himself to a young teenaged girl in the front row, Charlotte (who was by far the youngest audience member there), and dedicated much of the show to her, "Gotta pay attention to the young fans!" He ran through a selection of his best songs, old and new, prefacing each with an anecdote or a joke. Hardin was quiet, offering the odd unheard comment (for Russell's ears only) and making himself known by the blistering leads he would regularly squeeze from his Takamine. This guy is a hidden treasure. During the break they retreated to the lobby to sell and sign CDs. Hardin had his own offering, which I would have bought if I'd brought along a bit more dough.

There were tales of writing with Sylvia Tyson, with her ex-husband Ian. Memories of a train ride with his ex-girlfriend in the next sleeping car. Songs with lyrics about cowboys, sailors, cockfighting, and human tragedy. Songs about Sinatra, and a little blue pony. Russell is an American original, a writer of great songs. His own voice is rough, a bit ragged, but easy to listen to. He sounded like a young Johnny Cash, who recorded some of his songs by the way. His recordings are basic, guitar, vocals, a little harmony, and maybe an accordion. Live, the lead instrument is only Hardin's guitar. And that's enough. The guy has fingers like spiderlegs. Long, slender, and fast! First echoing a touch of the melody, then reaching up the neck in flurries of chords and counter-melodies. Amazing to watch, awesome to hear. He also sang a solo on a song by Norman Blake.

Port Dover is sort of out of the way. It sits an hour from Hamilton, on Lake Erie. People drive there for the perch. Russell and Hardin chowed down on perch themselves before the show. The Lighthouse is a beautiful old theatre, renewed with care, and the Northshore Concert Series is a gem in a solid gold setting. Acts like Tom Russell and Andrew Hardin add some shine to that gem.

Don't miss them if they happen by your town!

[David Kidney]

You can find out more about Tom Russell at his Web site. Andrew Hardin's Web site is also available with more information on Andrew.