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Russell has always been more erudite than your average singer in a cowboy shirt, though he's maintained that jes'-plain-folks persona: in a dry southwestern drawl over elemental guitar picking, he's spun vivid vignettes from the dark side of the arroyo. But on his latest album, the tour de force Hotwalker (Hightone), he sings tributes to Charles Bukowski (with whom he once corresponded), Jack Kerouac, Edward Abbey, and other boho literary types. The album is an elaborately drawn lament for a mythical bygone America populated by carnies, hustlers, and hoboes with hearts of gold, and it sometimes sounds like an extended essay on why Tom Russell is more hip than the rest of us. But when he lets the stories tell themselves, they're spellbinding. Between recorded snippets of Bukowski, Kerouac, Lenny Bruce, and others, Russell inserts gems like "Grapevine" (a rollicking send-up of Bakersfield country), an acerbic paean to a young Woody Guthrie ("You were a drunken, wild misogyneer and your politics were crude"), and a riotous reminiscence of his adolescent trips to Tijuana to score bootleg rum and find a fabled "donkey show." His real coup, however, was digging up legendary Little Jack Horton, who helps narrate tales about drinking with Bukowski and moonlighting as a jackleg preacher. He embodies the outsider hero type that Russell extols throughout. Andrew Hardin opens. Sat 3/5, 7 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn, 708-788-2118 or 312-559-1212, $18.

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