Thousand Mile Night
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Jonah Tolchin may hail from New Jersey but he has acquired a Southern soul. Breaking out as a young folk/blues acolyte on his 2012 self-released album, Tolchin drifted more to the singer/songwriter side of the road on 2014’s Marvin Etzioni (Lone Justice) produced sophomore disc, Clover Lane, released on Yep Roc. That garnered substantial critical respect and found him gaining a commercial foothold through airplay and perhaps more so by touring the country opening for like-minded artists such as Dave Alvin, Chuck Prophet and Tony Joe White. He follows with the similarly styled Thousand Mile Night, also produced by Etzioni at Memphis’ legendary FAME studio.
Etzioni smartly realizes that less is more with Tolchin. Instead of adding subtle strings and Steve Berlin’s sax as on the previous disc, he strips down the approach to a tight, taut three piece backing unit. One listen to the swampy chugging title track with its swirling, ominous slide guitar and oblique concepts (“radio plays but nobody listens”) shows he made the right decision. Tolchin’s comforting, dusky voice and somewhat mystical lyrical slant (his web site lists various recommended spiritual books and authors) combines with low key, generally acoustic based fare like the lovely, lilting, tender opening “Beauty in the Ugliest of Days” and “Song About Home,” the latter shuffles along on bubbling percussion, the singer’s comfortable, natural voice and his sure sense of melody.
There’s an understated Guy Clark feel to the laconic country-tinged “Paint My Love” but Tolchin is more convincing in the tougher, bluesier fare of “Where the Hell are All of My Friends.” That song snakes its way through its changes with a low key yet forceful and intoxicating mood drawing in the listener to its darker landscape. The one-two closing punch of the driving “Working Man Blues #22” and a haunting solo, acoustic cover of Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” brings Tolchin back to his beginnings. Yet it’s the organ led, gospel based “Unless You Got Faith” shifting from a sweet, loping vibe to a closing rave-up that jumps out with an immediately accessible melody you’ll return to as soon as it’s over.
The mix of upbeat folk-rockers with moodier fare makes this such an impressive and convincing album. It’s a logical step forward for Tolchin whose performance feels grounded and lived in and reflects a talent who has absorbed rustic, humid, red clay sounds, employing that groove for his own often hypnotizing originals.