Gifted singer/songwriter Tom Russell has a talent for spinning Western-themed yarns of epic proportions, often covered successfully by other artists.

Gifted singer/songwriter Tom Russell has a talent for spinning Western-themed yarns of epic proportions, often covered successfully by other artists. Here, steered smartly by producer Gurf Morlix, Russell makes perhaps his most powerful statement yet as an interpreter of his own material with 11 passion-filled tracks. The borders Russell explores here are the vague ones that, when crossed, change forever how lives are played out. The style is decidedly acoustic-based Tex-Mex, kind of a Tom Joad-era Springsteen on tequila, with keen lyrical observation and a romantic's heart. Russell has a knack for well-drawn, intriguing characterizations. "Touch of Evil" draws parallels with the Orson Welles film of the same name, and "California Snow" is a portrait of stoic resignation. The artist showcases touches of Johnny Cash with the twangy "Hills of Old Juarez," and the spicy "When Sinatra Played Juarez" recalls early Jimmy Buffett in its easy-rolling humor. The record concludes with two punches to the gut by way of salutes to crappy jobs: "What Work Is" and the strangely jubilant "The Road It Gives, the Road It Takes Away." Russell is a major talent, and Borderland ranks among his best work.—RW

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