The Literary Folkie 

Tom Rush’s songs catch the imagination as much as the ear.

“I really can’t answer that. I wish I could. It would make my life a lot easier,” Rush says by cell phone, as he stops to pay another toll on the New Jersey Turnpike. He’s on his way to New York City to talk deals for his new recording. “But the only thing I can figure out is that I like visual imagery. Whether it’s ‘I wear a cobra snake for a necktie’ from Bo Diddley or Joni Mitchell’s imagery, I like visual imagery in a song. I respond to that. Other than that, I do songs all over the lot. I do some serious stuff. I do some silly stuff.”

Rush is known as a guy who not only writes beautiful ballads but also as a guy who understands little-known talent when he hears it and he helps bring it to the fore. His classic 1968 album “Circle Game” introduced the songs of then-unknown writers such as Mitchell, Jackson Browne and James Taylor to a wider audience.

In the 1970s, the New Hampshire native used folk-rock arrangements and recorded songs by Canadian Murry McLaughlin alongside his own self-penned tales. Even now, he continues to expose lesser-known talent through the Club 47 concert series held in such venues as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and Boston’s Symphony Hall. Named after the legendary Cambridge music club where Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Rush and others got their musical feet wet in the mid-’60s, the series brings established performers together with new players. Rush admits the concerts are a handful to put together, given everyone’s schedule. But the irregularly scheduled shows sell out.

Rush continues a scaled down but active touring schedule, leaving his Wyoming home to play about 50 mostly solo shows a year. When he plays Ashland Coffee & Tea on Thursday, it will be just Rush and his guitar on stage. His most recently released recording “Trolling for Owls” captures his warm and lively performance style.

Rush took a career break around 1980. But it didn’t last long, and he returned to the fray in a few short years.

“I got itchy to get onstage again,” he concludes, as he heads into the Holland Tunnel. “The traveling part, you know, is quite tedious. But I love the time I get on stage. So…” S

Tom Rush plays Ashland Coffee & Tea, 100 N. Railroad Ave., March 18, 8 p.m. Advance tickets through are $22.50. Tickets are $27.50 at the door. For information call 798-1702.

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