Circling back to Tom Rush

Tom Rush came to town for two shows at the Dakota this week. On Wednesday night he filled a hole in the Dakota schedule. Last night Tom made his originally scheduled appearance before an appreciative audience. We attended both shows and found little overlap between the setlists. You had to be there both nights.

Thursday’s show gave me everything I wanted and more. With owner Lowell Pickett in the house I thought Tom really poured it on. He closed his first set last night with a great performance of “Panama Limited.” It was something of a tour de force.

Both nights he closed the show with “Who Do You Love.” His original recording of the Bo Didley song is on side 1 (the rock side) of Take a Little Walk With Me — an overlooked classic, probably because it was followed by The Circle Game. Wednesday night’s show also included Eric Von Schmidt’s “Joshua Gone Barbados” from side 2 (the folk side) of Take a Little Walk With Me. All three of Tom’s Elektra albums have just been reissued on compact disc and they are all keepers.

I interviewed Tom by telephone on his way to town in 2011. That was a thrill. I found that even on the telephone Tom still has a striking baritone voice that radiates honesty and warmth. I mentioned how much he sounded like himself as far back as his first recordings on Prestige. “They used to tell me I sounded old. Now I sound young,” he said.

Tom is 82. He still sounds young. You had to be there Wednesday night to catch him performing Murray McLaughlin’s “Child’s Song.” It’s always been a favorite of mine, but it really hit home live as he sung the lyrics way behind the beat. When he finished his performance Tom simply commented, “What a song.” He seemed to have plucked the thought from my head.

Tom has recorded three or four versions of his own “River Song,” most recently on What I Know. I thought it was the highlight of Thursday’s show. The song reworks Jesse Colin Young’s “Lullaby” from Tom’s self-titled 1970 album on Columbia (the first of four, not counting a best of). In “River Song” he not only recaptures some of the old magic, he even works in an unobtrusive allusion to Pascal. He is a Harvard man, after all.

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