Rush has been touring steadily for decades, bringing that unmistakable voice and those superlative songs to devoted audiences across the country. In the 1960s, he helped shape the folk revival. Rush was virtually the first to record songs by then-unknowns such as Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and James Taylor.
Rush released a series of early albums including “Tom Rush at the Unicorn” (1962), “Got a Mind to Ramble” (1963), “Blues, Songs & Ballads” (1963) and “Tom Rush” (1965).
Emerging from the early ’60s Boston/Cambridge folk scene as a folk-blues singer and guitarist, Rush helped link folk to rock with his 1966 Elektra album, “Take a Little Walk with Me,” which included a side of electric cover versions of songs by Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry, as well as his own first self-penned song, “On the Road Again.”
His next album, 1968’s “The Circle Game,” was singled out by Rolling Stone Magazine as the record that ushered in the singer-songwriter era with its debut of songs by Mitchell, Browne and Taylor before they had released any albums themselves. The album also featured what has become Rush’s best-known song, “No Regrets.”
Subsequent albums for Elektra and Columbia became showcases for other deserving songs by the likes of Bruce Cockburn, Guy Clark, Eric Kaz and Richard Dean. Following “The Circle Game,” Rush released “Tom Rush” (1970), “Wrong End of the Rainbow (1970), “Merrimack County (1972) and “Ladies Love Outlaws” (1974).
Then, for 35 years, Rush didn’t release a new album.
There were a few live albums as welcome reminders of his relaxed, expressive baritone, skilled guitar-playing, droll humor and infallible taste in writing and choosing material … but the recording artist simply chose not to release new studio material.
Finally, in 2009, patient fans were rewarded when Rush released a new studio CD, “What I Know,” his first since 1974 and his debut for Appleseed. “What I Know” is a musical quilt of original and carefully selected compositions that fully deserve “the Rush treatment.” Rush’s voice and phrasing are what make every song he sings his own. He writes or selects songs shorn of elaborate metaphors, choosing graceful, evocative, straightforward emotional settings. Then his warm baritone, tanned by experience, humor and melancholy, shines right through the lyrics, illuminating them from within.
Produced in Nashville by longtime Cambridge friend and musician Jim Rooney and his subtle crew of country-folk musicians, “What I Know” contains five Rush originals, his arrangement of the traditional “Casey Jones” with guest vocalist Nanci Griffith and nine renditions of mostly unfamiliar songs that become instant friends. Rush’s compositions range from toe-tappers to the wearily peaceful “River Song” (with Robin Batteau on violin). Tracks include “Hot Tonight,” with guest Bonnie Bramlett on harmony vocals, “Silly Little Diddle,” “One Good Man” and the exuberant title song. There also are gorgeously regret-filled songs such as Steven Bruton’s “Too Many Memories,” with Emmylou Harris on harmony, A.J. Swearingen’s “You’re Not Here with Me,” Jamaican singer Mishka’s “Lonely,” the wonderfully tender “What an Old Lover Knows,” by Melanie Dyer and Kim Beard Day, and a velvety song of seduction – “Fall into the Night” – by Eliza Gilkyson.
“East of Eden,” co-written by Jack Tempchin, doubles as a frustrated love song and a commentary on U.S. immigration policies.
The best-known song covered is a reflective take on Mentor Williams’ “Drift Away,” a hit for Dobie Gray, Rod Stewart and uncountable others.
Rush – the man with the golden ear, the comforting voice, the supple guitar and the craftsman’s pen – has given fans a gift worth waiting for. James Taylor, Emmylou Harris, Tom Petty and Garth Brooks have cited Rush as a major influence.
Now, Rush is on the road again. Rush not only knows how to write, choose and sing a song – he knows how to make an audience believe every word he sings, and how to make everywhere feel like home. Tampa Bay audiences will have an opportunity to see him perform at Largo Cultural Center Jan. 11.