Newport Opera House, New Hampshire, 20 September 2002
Tom Rush is the folk singer, folk-rock singer and country-blues revivalist who
gave, amongst others, a young Canadian singer called Joni Mitchell her first
break, recording a tune of hers called 'The Circle Game' back in the days when
Ms Mitchell was hanging out singing for food and dollars in a Detroit nightclub.
That favour begat a great career, and Rush's own songbook has begat an enviable
Of a scene later made famous by Dylan, Joan Baez and others, Tom Rush has played music for 40 years, but rarely in his hometown. Newport is a small, whitewashed Main St buried deep in the New Hampshire hills. This is Merrimack County, from where the young Tom Rush set off in 1961 to Cambridge and its main attraction - the burgeoning coffeehouse folk scene.
He was a staple of Harvard Square's Club 47 (now Club Passim, it's fame recently revived by David Hajdu's book 'Positively Fourth Street'), cutting two albums apiece for Prestige and Elektra in the mid-60s, before laying down 'The Circle Game' in 1967. It's an album widely credited with starting the singer-songwriter boom - on it Rush includes his own 'No Regrets' (later made famous by the Walker Brothers), Joni's 'Circle Game', as well as James Taylor's 'Something in the Way She Moves'. From there it was folk-rock through the seventies, people got less interested, and for years now Rush's name has rarely been heard outside the most diehard of folkie circles.
But tonight's a chance to re-live, if you were there first time around, and be taught a lesson, if this was your first time. Interestingly, Rush focuses mainly on the earliest of his material, all tonight's songs stem from his 60s records. He's alone on stage at the Newport Opera House, a small pine auditorium - soft drinks and pretzels have been laid out on the tables.
And then come two hours of the most spellbinding acoustic virtuosity. In itself, this counts for little (anyone can practice, anyone can play?), but the singer's treatment of a vast and varied canon of song - from the country blues of Sleepy John Estes' 'Drop Down Mama' to the jazz improvisation of his own 'Rockport Sunday', to a reclamation of 'No Regrets' and a vocally-perfect reading of Joni Mitchell's 'The Circle Game' - is astounding.
The highlight of the performance is undoubtedly his account of 'The Panama Limited' - a ten minute piece, composed of fragments of a number of Bukka White 'train songs'. The bluesman White, long since gone, could only have been flattered by the performance, in which Rush slide guitars his way through the sounds of the 'different lonesome trains - all going just one direction - away from you'.
In the midst of this are some new songs, some traditional staples (the ghost of the Carter family's invoked more than once this evening) and country-blues. By the performance's end the surprising thing is the resonance of the material - songs forty to a hundred years old are rendered as clear and relevant as they were when they were first sung.
And there goes Tom Rush. Next week it's Providence, Rhode Island and afterwards it's back to where it all began - a show in Cambridge. As one of his own heroes sang - so long, it's been good to know ya.