Tom Russell 

Friday, March 24 at 8:30 p.m. Off Broadway (3509 Lemp Avenue).

If one believes his record label, Tom Russell — who's been called "the greatest living country songwriter" — has "shaken off his folk troubadour shackles." But while the characters in his narrative tunes (including honor-bound cock-fighters, businessmen-turned-drifters, early R&B singers and Russell's own grandfather) are often shackled in some way, the songwriter's muse has rarely seemed constrained. Far from the cowboy-noir that may be his only vice, Russell's new Love & Fear might be his most personal album, yet retains his gifts for tale-spinning and stately melody — and between singing about fat men and aging boxers, Russell can't seem to ditch those crusty characters. Old habits, thankfully, die hard.

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