PICKS/Rob Patterson

Rush Job

CD: What I Know by Tom Rush — It’s been 30 years since one of the best voices and both writer and interpreter of songs has made a full new studio album, but this disc is certainly worth the wait. Rush still sings with as much warm expressiveness and emotionality as ever, and continues to pen and find songs of nourishing depth and appeal. This set is produced by Jim Rooney, who has done similar duty for Nanci Griffith (who sings with Rush on a version of “Casey Jones” that brings a fresh take to that traditional classic) and John Prine, which should give you a notion of the high quality country-inflected music on this disc played by the finest roots music players in Nashville. Emmylou Harris also guests, adding her always-piquant touch to the heart-wrenching song “Too Many Memories” (written by my talented Austin, Texas, friend Stephen Bruton).

DVD Documentary: Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten — The main singer and spiritual center of The Clash who died of an undiagnosed heart condition at the age of 50 was the most dedicated political artist in music who also became a superstar, as this wonderful and loving account of his life and art proves. I feel fortunate to have twice spent two brief moments with the man: once smoking a joint in an isolation booth at Electric Lady studio that its founder used for romps with groupies in between takes, and a couple years later in a New York bar where we discussed the poster on the wall that showed the disproportionate distribution of wealth in American society. Those two poles — rock’n’roll and politics — defined Strummer, and few but Bob Dylan fused them so effectively and lastingly as Strummer did with his Clash bandmates. Like all musicians who we might be tempted to idolize, he was human, ergo flawed, as sometimes as quixotic as any true artist. But as this film shows, he was indeed admirable in how he strived to remain true to his human, social and political values, and was less affected by his stardom than any other musician I know of. Of course there’s much great music here as well as a life that was integrally involved in the times in which Strummer lived. Director Julian Temple performs a wonderful twist on the talking heads commentary of such musical artist documentary bios by gathering those who knew and loved Strummer around the sort of communal bonfires that were at the core of how the man felt about communing with his fans and fellow music lovers. One of the best and most touching and illuminating films ever made about a musician, it’s well worth seeing even if you don’t believe that, as was said about his influential group, that The Clash was the only band that matters.

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2009

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