Words // Scott Pingeton
Jonah Tolchin sings in a world weary, grizzled drawl, spinning tales of injustic, inequity, loss and strife. But at just 19 years old, these are not songs of a tired, beaten-down man. Far from it. Tolchin sings with the passion and wide-eyed optimism that a song can change the world. Like protest singers that came before, he builds his songs around a core message, but makes the characters and the stories universal and timeless. Like the best folk and blues, these are songs that feel as though they have always existed, but were only just pulled out of the ether. You've heard much of this before - it's Guthrie, Seeger, Nebraska and Steve Earle - but it's fresh when there's true passion, and Tolchin certainly has that.
These songs cover greed, apathy, corruption and the derailment of American values - none more directly than "Cold, Dark, American Dream" on which Tolchin sings:
Four black vultures on the street-light sit just laughing bout the war and politics
they said, these funny creatures they got it all wrong well it won't be long before they all are gone, oh no.
The native chief said interconnectedness has been crushed under the bus of awarelessness,
the web has been cut and were all going down gonna take a revolution to bring us around.
But if we grab the strands up one by one tie them back together so they can't come undone,
And then we take our eyes from the blue-light screen and wake up from these Cold, Dark, American Dreams.
From folk and blues to country and bluegrass, the album covers quite a bit of stylistic ground, making for an easy listen. It's the kind of record you get lost in and find yourself spinning it over and over again. The other thing that Jonah Tolchin has going for him are his friends. Providence has a folk music scene that is perhaps rivaled only by the PNW, and most of Providence's great folk artists contribute to these songs. Ben Knox Miller and Jeff Prystowsky (The Low Anthem), David Lamb and MorganEve Swain (Brown Bird) and Joe Fletcher all appear on the album. But surprisingly I found that the contributions of these more well-known artists was a complete afterthought - the songs stand on their own. It's a bit of an anachronism for a 19 year old to write from a place of hardened wisdom and maturity, but Tolchin does it well - the mark of a great songwriter.
Stream/Download the full album here
Jonah Tolchin will be filming a Kitchen Sessions performance on April 25 - the session is open to the public and free to attend, details here.