Tom Rush makes Aspen stop
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Tom Rush encountered numerous surprises while making his latest CD, “What I Know,” to be released next week. One was the availability of Emmylou Harris, who adds harmony vocals on the unabashedly nostalgic “Too Many Memories.” “I was told that she wouldn’t be in town,” said Rush, who recorded the album in Nashville. “Then that she had to rest her voice. And she showed up.”
The pace of the recording was a shock to Rush. Basic tracks for the 15-song album were put down in three days ” “Astounding to me,” Rush said. Behind that achievement was an equally astonishing work ethic: “It was very business-like. That Nashville vibe: Everybody’s low-key, in shorts and socks that don’t match ” a lot like what I imagine a job would be like. They had fun but they didn’t waste time.”
Rush was accustomed to a far different atmosphere for recording sessions. “I was working in studios where they’d have hot tubs, pinball machines, a lot of strange substances,” he said. “If we got two tracks in a day, that was a lot.”
Rush, of course, comes from another era ” and not just because he turned 68 earlier this month. Actually, several eras ago. Rush’s last album release predates alternative rock, hip-hop, New Wave and punk. Rush last recorded a full-length album when that movement was at its height ” in the mid-’70s. (“Work in Progress” doesn’t count: That 1994 release was a six-song, limited edition recording ” released on cassette.)
Amazingly, in that 35-year span between 1974’s “Ladies Love Outlaws” and 2009’s “What I Know,” Rush has barely taken a break from music. There was that eight-month hiatus in the late ’70s, but Rush spent most of that time anxious to get back to the stage.
“I was burned out. Fried,” said Rush, a New Hampshire native who had emerged from Boston’s early ’60s coffeehouse scene. “In the previous five years I’d had 10 days off ” not in a row. I said, ‘I’m going to show those guys ” the industry will collapse. And it did, just not in the way I imagined. But I got eager to do more shows.”
Rush was also eager to get back to the recording studio ” just not eager enough. He entertained offers from major labels, made song demos, and even launched his own label which was such a tiny and unambitious venture that he calls it “a figment of my imagination.”
“I was kind of stuck for the first couple of decades that I wanted it to be on a major label,” said Rush, whose 1968 album “The Circle Game” gave early exposure to such songwriters as James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and Joni Mitchell, who contributed three songs, including the title track. “But the major labels ” what I do isn’t what they do. That would have been a very short conversation. And I didn’t want it to be on my own label ” which is a half-drawer in my alleged office.”
When Rush worked up a batch of new songs ” some originals, some by other writers ” he had the desire to see them get out into the world. But he lacked the drive and organization to make it happen.
“I’m a lousy administrator,” he confessed. “Every time I’d think about it, I’d get a headache, have to go lie down. I think what was needed was for somebody else to initiate it.”
Enter Jim Musselman, an attorney, activist and music producer whose Pennsylvania-based Appleseed Recordings had released albums by Roger McGuinn and David Bromberg, as well as “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” a high-profile tribute to Pete Seeger that featured recordings by Bruce Springsteen, Ani Difranco and Bonnie Raitt. Musselman wanted to add Rush to his stable of old-school folkies, and in Rush he found a willing artist.
“It became clear pretty quickly that he’s in it because he loves the music,” said Rush, speaking by phone from his home in Hanover, N.H. (He had recently relocated his family, including a 9-year-old daughter, to the Granite State after stretches in Santa Barbara and Jackson Hole.) “And that’s such a breath of fresh air in this world.” Sealing the deal was the opportunity to work with Jim Rooney, a friend from the Boston coffeehouses who had become a major Nashville producer and publisher.
“What I Know” reveals little rust in Rush’s abilities. It’s old-fashioned ” certain to appeal to Rush’s longtime fans, less likely to win over new ones ” but hardly dated. Rush himself wrote half the material, including the lovely “River Song”; for the rest he relies mostly on dependable writers like Eliza Gilkyson, Stephen Bruton and Bill Miller. The real find is the relatively young reggae singer Mishka, who contributes the affecting “Lonely.”
“I actually enjoy listening to it ” which is a surprise,” said Rush, who performs Thursday at Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House. “With previous recordings, I’d heard them so many times ” you were done with it. That wasn’t the case here, partly because of the technology. Mixing it is so much easier, and I’ve gotten smart enough to get out of the room for the first 20 or 30 preliminary mixes.”
But the fact that he likes the album is not nearly as shocking as having an album to listen to at all. The biggest surprise in the process, said Rush, is “the fact that I got it done.
“Stunning to me. Mind-boggling,” he concluded.
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