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Tom Russell, Gretchen Peters make for tough acts to follow

Swallow Hill Concert Hall, Denver, November 25, 2006

Reviewed by Corinne Brown

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Tom Russell showed up with award-winning Nashville singer/songwriter Gretchen Peters for a night of memorable music before a packed house.

Passing through Denver on their way to Durango in the southern part of the state, Russell made it very clear that being on the road isn't all that it's cracked up to be. "We spent Thanksgiving in a Pizza Hut in Salida," he quipped. "That pretty much says it all."

Road weary but resolute, Russell opened his first set with a rendition of "The Lost Highway," a tribute to the legacy of Hank Williams. He was accompanied by virtuoso Michael Martin, a hugely talented guitarist from Texas who nearly upstaged the song and Russell with his brilliant lead guitar, a feat repeated throughout the night, adding complement and sometimes even competition to Russell's powerful delivery.

Martin, who teamed up with Russell 10 months ago, was more recently the lead singer for The Infidels, a well known band in San Antonio, Texas.

The seductive new song "Beautiful Trouble" followed, an original off the recently released "Love and Fear" album, attesting to Russell's magic mix of truth, illusion and sensuality prevalent in much of his work. "Ash Wednesday" was sung exquisitely by Russell and Peters together, followed by "The Sound of One Heart Breaking," a song originally written with Sylvia Tyson.

By the second set, Russell was loose and edgy, joking with the audience and visibly more comfortable. Highlights included the political satire "Who's Gonna Build Your Wall," a finger pointed at U.S. immigration laws, and "California Snow," a border song about a narcotics agent, telling us even more about Russell's grasp of the West - its legends and its myths.

The cowboy surfaced in "Tonight We Ride" from "Indians Cowboys, Horses, and Dogs." He soon wrapped the audience in the haunting ballad "My Name Is Isaac Lewis," an eerie sea chantey based on a true story, and "Blue Wing," an ode to a prisoner with a dream. He closed with two beloved classics - "Navajo Rug" and the famed "Gallo del Cielo," the tale of a thief and a one-eyed rooster, now his signature song.

Double headliner Peters was the show stealer however, providing lush contrast to Russell's sometimes spare and hard-driving delivery. This ex-Coloradoan with the sultry voice and beautiful face had the audience spellbound, offering the best of Nashville today - solid musicianship, effortless delivery, vivid and penetrating lyrics and captivating presence.

Accompanied by keyboard artist Barry Walsh, (also on accordion and xylophone), every song was enriched by the rare magic of piano and guitar. Peters nailed the audience from her opening with "Circus Girl," followed by I Ain't Afraid to Die" (off her recent "Halcyon" album.) Her riveting "Independence Day," made famous by Martina McBride, exposes domestic abuse and her one cover, Paul Simon's "An American Tune," offered hope in a troubled world, even more meaningful now than when it was first written.

If anything was wrong with Russell's concert, it was that there wasn't enough of either of them - two tough acts to follow. To make it right, next time, they ought to make it an all-nighter.