Tom Rush has been touring steadily for decades, bringing that voice and those songs to devoted audiences across the country. There have been a few live albums as welcome reminders of Tom’s relaxed, expressive baritone, skilled guitar-playing, droll humor and infallible taste in writing and choosing material (after all, he was virtually the first to record songs by then-unknowns Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and James Taylor). Now there’s a new Tom Rush studio CD, What I Know, his first since 1974 and his debut for Appleseed, a musical quilt of original and carefully selected compositions that fully deserve “the Rush treatment.”
Tom’s voice and phrasing are what make every song he sings his own. He writes or selects songs shorn of elaborate metaphors, choosing graceful, evocative, straightforward emotional settings. Then his warm baritone, tanned by experience, humor and melancholy, shines right through the lyrics, illuminating them from within.
Emerging from the early Sixties Boston/Cambridge folk scene as a folk-blues singer and guitarist, Rush helped link folk to rock with his 1966 Elektra album, Take a Little Walk with Me, which included a side of electric cover versions of songs by Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry, as well as Tom’s first self-penned song, “On the Road Again.” His next album, 1968’s The Circle Game, was singled out by Rolling Stone as the record that ushered in the singer-songwriter era with its debut of songs by Mitchell, Browne and Taylor before they had released any albums themselves. The album also featured what has become Tom’s best known song, “No Regrets,” which has been a hit for seemingly everyone (including Emmylou Harris and The Walker Brothers) except Tom; even U2 dropped in a few lines from the song in a televised 1994 Grammy Awards performance. Subsequent albums for Elektra and Columbia became showcases for other deserving songs by the likes of Bruce Cockburn, Guy Clark, Eric Kaz, and Richard Dean, who is also represented on What I Know by “All a Man Can Do,” which gives voice to a war veteran’s return to what’s left of his life.