Tom Rush, who opened a two-night stand at The Door last night, didn't play it safe so much as familiar. After 20 years of exceeding the "folkie" label with an eclectic repertoire of country, pop, blues, rock and reggae, Rush can now pull out songs that any audience will be comfortable with, without offending his old fans or boring new ones.
Rush's unaffected tenor was particularly impressive on songs such as "Anna" and "Wind on the Water," soft, wistful ballads of near-gothic resonance, white blues that evoke authentic sadness and longing. It's territory covered in country music by Don Williams, but Rush manages to avoid imitation by replacing country cliche's with a poet's introspection.
The night's somber gentility was broken up with the bravado of "Ladies Love Outlaws" and the insistent humor of talking blues such as "Making the Best of Bad Situation" and the hilarious "Duncan and Brady." Rush was most effective performing alone; a competent band cluttered the sound, obfuscating the directness of the music, provoking conformity. Tom Rush is more effective as a pendant than as the heart of the necklace. When the singer and the songs connect so personally, it's a traditional relationship that's worth getting back to.