You know that Justin Bieber song with Nicki Minaj? Listen to that song and pretend like you don’t know who is singing. I picture a gorgeous young Beyonce-esque girl in some glittery, form fitting outfit…not the Biebs we all know.
In the world of Americana, there’s something somewhat similar that happens to me when I listen to Jonah Tolchin, but in a much, much better and less insulting, dehumanizing way. With Tolchin – the New England Americana teen badass (now 21) who has mesmerized audiences since he was 15 and drew damn fine crowds wherever he wandered at Newport this year – it’s not about gender or glitter…it’s about genre, age and experience. Sure, we see plenty of young bluegrass prodigies that blow our minds with fancy instrumentation at festivals, but there are few folks south of 25 that can nail Americana, blues and folk with impeccable instrumentation and songwriting the way Tolchin can. It’s as if he’s a 40 year-old lovechild of a Mississippi Delta blues man and Loretta Lynn…not the guy above.
Tolchin’s full length debut, Criminal Man (Amazon MP3 & Spotify), released in March, jumps from simple folk to alt-country to legit-Delta-blues without a miss. Songs like “Pitchfork, Torch & Pen” rock out with an A.A. Bondy feel, while songs like “Criminal Man,” “Rocks & Nails” and “Fracking Nightmare” fall somewhere between old time folk and Dylan. The album is one of my favorites for the year and this review is long overdue.
Tolchin, currently living in Olympia, WA, will play around the Pacific Northwest this month before jumping on a cross-country tour in December (see tour dates here). Here’s “Rocks & Nails,” my favorite from the album, which features background vocals by MorganEve Swain and David Lamb of Brown Bird.