Jonah Tolchin Travels to Louisiana for the Swamp Blues of ‘Dockside’

(Clover Music)
4 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

It hasn’t been easy following singer/songwriter Jonah Tolchin through the creative twists that follow his life fluctuations.

Starting as an Americana folkie, then bluesman, the New Jersey native gradually brought soul, pop, and, as recently as 2022, edgier rock into his five previous albums. The indie Yep Roc label, to their credit, stuck with him from 2014 through his most recent effort, Lava Lamp (2022). Along the way, he attained a small but dedicated audience of fans, and fellow road warriors like Dave Alvin, based on his organic, honest vocals and a knack for writing excellent material, regardless of the genre.

But all good things must end. Or at least change.

On Dockside, Tolchin not only goes it alone for his newly formed Clover Music imprint (a reference to the 2014 album Clover Lane) but decided to be a stay-at-home musician, preferring not to tour as rigorously as in the past. Additionally, a recent spiritual journey took him from Judaism (where he focused on deceased Jewish guitar heroes Mike Bloomfield and Peter Green) to Buddhism and a renewed interest in blues. Tolchin contacted fellow rootsy peer Luther Dickinson who set up shop for these sessions at Louisiana’s famed Dockside Studio, hence the album’s title. Bassist/mixer Nic Coolidge returns, drummer Terence Higgins, singer Chavonne Stewart, and a few keyboardists fill out the band.

This combination of straight blues, such as the opening cover of Little Walter’s classic “Blues with a Feeling” and the closing crawl of “Lucille” (not the B.B. King song about his guitar), heavily indebted to Green’s early work with Fleetwood Mac, is offset by a more rhythmic New Orleans approach to other offerings such as the second line beat that energizes “Mama Don’t Worry.”

Better still are the originals that reference Green’s similar writing approach on Mac’s Then Play On and for Bloomfield’s band The Electric Flag.

It’s on tunes like “Nothing’s Gonna Take My Blues Away,” “Suffering Well” and the noir “Too Far Down,” the latter sung by Stewart (an established background singer who deserves her own album based on this emotional performance) where Tolchin combines a bluesy sensibility with soul and supple blues rock that’s innovative and humble. Selections such as “Trust Somebody” have a gospel groove not far from The Staple Singers, especially due to the supporting vocals and Tolchin’s voice which is eerily reminiscent of Pops Staples.

Nothing is raw (well, except when Dickenson unloads a sizzling solo on “Suffering Well”), or excessively loud and the limber melodies go down as easy as cafe au lait and beignets. Tolchin’s touch is firm yet loose enough edge into Keb’ Mo’ territory making these 50 minutes glide by with grace and integrity. 

Tolchin should stick with this smoother blues style since it naturally conforms to his impressive vocal, guitar, and especially songwriting talents.

Photo Credit: Joe Del Tufo / Courtesy Nick Loss-Eaton Media

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