Music Review: Tom Russell & Patricia Hardin’s ‘Ring of Bone’

Hardin & Russell's Ring of Bone

That Tom Russell and Patricia Hardin have yet to find a contract with a major record label strikes me as a fact worthy of inclusion in Ripley’s Believe It or Not. A top-prize winner in the 1974 American Song Festival, Russell is an evocative singer and guitarist who writes lyrically fresh, melodically inventive tunes. And Hardin, a classically trained pianist, fully shares her partner’s vocal and compositional gifts.

On this strikingly jacketed homespun debut, which the pair self-produced on a shoestring budget, their talents mesh seamIessly. Accompanying themselves on the aforementioned instruments and garnering effusive additional support from 11 versatile cohorts, Hardin and Russell deliver warm, convincing harmonies and counterpointed vocals that recall Hedge and Donna and, at times, early Ian and Sylvia. Their original tunes, which collectively limn a death/reincarnation cycle, prove just as good as their performances.

Because the material exhibits such consistent quality, it would probably be misleading to label certain cuts as highlights. But Hardin’s affecting “Look at Us Now,” in which an old woman reflects on a rich life with her mate, constitutes a personal favorite. “Alkalai,” a Russell vignette, offers an equally touching portrait of a hobo who faces death in the desert. And his “Beneath Canyon Walls,” which seems redolent of Tom Pacheco’s “Jesse Tucker,” brilliantly describes a retired boatman’s final reunion with his beloved Colorado River.

I hope such tracks will soon convince a major record label to take over the distribution of the album. In the meantime, I heartily recommend that you buy a copy directly from Russell.

[Note: Years later, in 1994, this album was finally issued on The Early Years, a CD that also included other fine early Hardin and Russell material.]

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