Tom Rush 2024
Photo: Adrienne Pollard Design / Mark Pucci Media

Tom Rush Grows New Flowers in Old Gardens

The underlying theme of folk artist Tom Rush’s new LP, Gardens Old, Flowers New, is that the greatest pleasure lies in human relationships.

Gardens Old, Flowers New
Tom Rush
Appleseed Recordings
1 March 2024

Joni Mitchell recently won a Grammy Award for Best Folk Album. She has had a long and storied career. But she was not the first person to record a Joni Mitchell song. That honor goes to New England singer-songwriter Tom Rush, whose version of Mitchell’s “Urge for Going” received much acclaim in 1966. Rush also introduced Jackson Browne and James Taylor‘s songs to the world before these legends released their music.

Besides covering new artists, Rush has also successfully performed classic blues and traditional music by Jesse Fuller, Big Bill Broonzy, and Pink Anderson, as well as his self-penned compositions. Critics consider his “No Regrets”, which has been covered many times, including as a hit for the Walker Brothers, a modern classic.

The artist has just released his first album in five years to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Appleseed Recordings, a label devoted to folk-type music about social justice. The good news is that Rush’s record wonderfully captures the old man vibe with a fresh feeling. The folksinger comes off as a warm and friendly fellow sharing the good times. As the LP’s title suggests, longstanding plots can produce the finest buds—the secret lies in its cultivation.

All 14 tracks on Gardens Old, Flowers New are original Tom Rush songs, except “Gimme Some of It”, which re-uses the old blues tune “Custard Pie”. Rush shows his age thoughtfully by reflecting on his past (“wasting time like wine”) and how he has changed. He’s not nostalgic as much as he is preaching the sermon of love. “It All Comes Down to Love,” Rush sings explicitly in the song of that title, and that sentiment pervades the album’s contents. The underlying theme of Gardens Old, Flowers New is the greatest pleasure lies in human relationships. That’s even implied in the instrumental “Lullaby in E”. The unspoken melody of Rush’s gentle guitar picking offers words unsaid for one to relax in another’s presence.

While Rush is front and center on Gardens Old, Flowers New, he’s far from alone. He’s accompanied by a host of talented players, including producer Matt Nakos (keyboards, guitars, slide trombone), Mike Reilly (drums, percussion), Craig Aiken (electric & upright bass), Abbie Gardner (dobro, harmonies), and others on everything from pennywhistle to cello to accordion. The music is full and rich.

Tom Rush sings and plays the acoustic guitar with a light touch and a wry sense of humor. His voice sometimes shows the effects of aging with a rasp instead of a sigh. Still, like other talented singers who continued to express themselves long after their primes (Pete Seeger, Willie Nelson), he knows how to express himself with a youthful vigor. The tempo never drags. The music always moves forward. The songs frequently depict their protagonists traveling. Wherever they are, they are going somewhere even if they are not sure where—moving on to keep on moving on.

This is the same urge for going Rush sang about in the old days via Joni Mitchell. He coyly references the song on the last cut, the satirical “I’m Gone”. Yet, as Rush ironically notes, he’s still here. Just like old gardens produce new flowers, old folkies never die. They just keep on producing welcome fare.

RATING 8 / 10