When Tom Rush's self-titled album appeared on Elektra Records at the beginning of 1965, the recent university graduate was already an established veteran of the Cambridge, Massachusetts folk scene. A popular performer at local venues such as Club 47 and the Unicorn, he had already recorded three albums, the first of those a private production done live at the Unicorn, the next two for the Prestige label.
Tom Rush marked a step up for the artist, moving him to a label that was actually more prestigious than Prestige, and filling out his sound with an all-star squad of accompanists. The music, though, remained much as it had been on his previous LPs: warm, affable interpretations of a diverse range of folk songs.
It was an age when there seemed to be a sort of mini-competition among various prominent folkies in trying to select the most eclectic repertoire possible, always accompanied by liner notes that meticulously documented the sources, as a testament to their assiduous choices and diligent folkloric research. In this respect Rush could more than hold his own, rambling through country blues by Kokomo Arnold and Bukka White, Woody Guthrie compositions, and traditional folk songs of indeterminate origin, some learned from peers such as Dave Van Ronk, Eric Von Schmidt, Geoff Muldaur, and Ian Tyson.
There was even a cover of a Jerry Leiber-Mike Stoller composition that had been recorded by the Coasters, a daring move at a time when some purists were trying to keep the gap between rock and folk as wide as possible. And, naturally, there were diligent notes about the songs and how Rush had learned them, penned by the singer himself.
Moving from Prestige to Elektra along with Tom was producer Paul Rothchild, one of the top folk producers of the day, and soon to become a top rock producer at the helm of Elektra recordings by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Love, Tim Buckley, and the Doors. This helped create a confusing situation where Rush's Elektra debut actually hit the stores before his second Prestige LP, which had been recorded prior to Tom Rush.
Elaborated Rush in a 1998 interview with Wally Breese (for Joni Mitchell's website), "When Paul and I sat down to make these two albums, we put the more traditional, I should say, simpler material on the Prestige project. We weren't really high-grading for Elektra, but we put the stuff that sounded best solo or solo with a washtub bass, which is how I recorded the first one, on the Prestige album, and the stuff that lent itself to more backup was on the Elektra album."
Tom Rush was still very much a folk record, though, and not a pop or rock one. None of the songs were written by Rush himself, who leaned most toward blues numbers such as "Milk Cow Blues" and the Robert Johnson-derived "If Your Man Gets Busted," as well as ageless folk tunes that had been around the block many times, like "The Cuckoo" and "Solid Gone" (also sometimes called "The Cannonball").
Certainly the most inventive cut was the eight-and-a-half-minute closer, "The Panama Limited, " which strung together several Bukka White songs. Another standout was the solo performance "Poor Man," with D modal tuning and a darker atmosphere than was typical for what was largely an upbeat, good-time collection.
If only in hindsight, the most significant track might have been "When She Wants Good Lovin'," taken from the B-side of a Coasters single. Rush, as well as collaborators Sebastian, Pappalardi, and Rothchild, would be heading full steam into the folk-rock revolution within a year, and Tom would devote most of an entire LP side of his next Elektra album to electric rock treatments of such rock'n'roll oldies.by Richie Unterberger
1. Long John (Traditional) - 4:00
2. If Your Man Gets Busted (Traditional) - 3:30
3. Do-Re-Mi (Woodie Guthrie) - 2:39
4. Milk Cow Blues (Kokomo Arnold) - 3:14
5. Black Mountain Blues (Traditional) - 2:44
6. The Cuckoo (Traditional) - 3:24
7. Poor Man (Traditional) - 3:30
8. Solid Gone (Traditional) - 3:01
9. When She Wants Good Lovin' (Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller) - 2:45
10.I'd Like to Know (Woodie Guthrie) - 2:17
11.Jelly Roll Baker (Lonnie Johnson) - 3:01
12.Windy Bill (Traditional) - 2:16
13.The Panama Limited (Bukka White) - 8:23
*Tom Rush - Vocals, Guitar
*Felix Pappalardi - Guitar
*John Herald - Guitar
*John Sebastian - Harmonica
*Bill Lee - Bass
*Fritz Richmond - Bass