Jonah Tolchin's fourth solo album, Fires For The Cold, boasts some notable selling points, but ultimately stands on its own terms as an estimable, if somewhat narrowly circumscribed, piece of work. The vocal contributions of Jackson Browne and Rickie Lee Jones buttress the delicacy of the recording's predominantly acoustic textures, as does the artist's discerning inclusion of "Roll Um Easy," originally recorded by Little Feat on Dixie Chicken (Warner Bros., 1973).
As he has evolved over the course of his previous records, Tolchin has flirted with insularity to a degree. But his exposition of the virtues of solitude here catches that state of mind from an oblique angle. As a result, his intimate renderings of songs like "Timeless River" sound like personal epiphanies in progress. Jonah Tolchin isn't so much removed from the world around him as he is positioned at a point of healthy detachment, which is why on a track like "Turn to Ashes," his voice sounds equally vulnerable and engaged.
Some elements of Tolchin's blues-influenced, guitar-based Clover Lane (Yep Roc Records, 2014) would wholly dispel any traces of sameness arising from the quiet, subdued tenor of this record. Nevertheless, Fires From The Cold stands as a logical extension of the man's self-portrait as a singer/songwriter on the markedly smoother Thousand-Mile Night (Yep Roc Records, 2016). Even so, lines like ..."a way to mend a broken mind..." are apropos of the album's titletaken from a line written by the late poet Mary Oliverand further reaffirm the forthright, matter of fact air about the words echoed in the arrangements overseen (and often played on) by co-producer Sheldon Gomberg. Still, given its sensual tone, "Wash Over You" might have benefited from a more abandoned air, particularly as it follows the similarly-minded "Honeysuckle" with Sara Watkins on violin and vocals.
Having worked in the studio with the esteemed likes of artists including Browne and Jones, as well as Ben Harper and Peter Case, Gomberg imprints his connection with Tolchin as the two enlist a formidable roster of accompanists: drummer Jay Bellerose never allows himself to plod during the deliberate pace of "Day By Day," while on the aforementioned cover authored by the late Lowell George, guitarist Greg Leisz, playing pedal steel, reminds he is never less than brilliant. Meanwhile, another Feats alumnus, Fred Tackett, also plays mandolin on that tune, implanting a down-to-earth air Vanessa Freebairn-Smith counterpoints on "Day By Day" with her dignified cello.
Those two tracks effectively function as the earthy and formal touchstones of the musical spectrum Jonah Tolchin aspires to traverse with his original songs on Fires For The Cold. And although he may sound precious at times, as on "Maybe I'm a Rolling Stone," he still gives the distinct impression he will grow beyond such minor foibles.
Supermarket Rage; The Real You; White Toyota Ranger; Turn to Ashes; Honeysuckle; Wash Over You; Roll Um Easy; Day by Day; Timeless River; Maybe, I'm a Rolling Stone.
Jonah Tolchin: acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, vocals; Fred Tackett: electric guitar, mandolin; Ben Peeler: slide guitar. steel guitar; Greg Leisz: steel guitar; Sara Watkins: violin, vocals; Vanessa Freebairn-Smith: cello; Sebastian Steinberg: bass; Billy Mims: bass; Sheldon Gomberg: bass; Jay Bellerose: drums; Cindy Walker: vocals; Jackson Browne: vocals; Marie Lewey: vocals; Rickie Lee Jones: vocals.
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