It’s hard to say what exactly separates an album of cover songs from rehash to worthwhile endeavor. With Human Tongue, a collection of covers by local guitar hero Russ Nasset, the delight is in the design, where images and themes repeat and resonate from song to song. On the first track, for instance, a traditional called “Black Jack David,” Nasset sings, “She put on some high heeled boots made of Spanish leather,” an image repeated when he ends the album with Bob Dylan’s “Boots of Spanish Leather.” The bluesy “Corinna, Corinna” begins with “I’ve got a bird that whistles, I’ve got a bird that sings,” which Nasset smartly follows up with “Cuckoo Bird,” a much darker warbler story.
Despite being an incredible song, “Long Black Veil” is perhaps too obvious a choice for Nasset. The rest of the songs maintain a little more mystery, to the point that resurrecting them from the annals of country storytelling makes sense.
Nasset doesn’t hit low notes gracefully, but neither do Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash, and he has their same kind of confidence. Who wants perfection in country vocals anyway? Nasset knows what he’s doing, both in playing music and in creating a collection of old songs worth getting to know.