Jonah Tolchin

Fires for the Cold

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Jonah Tolchin is one of those guys with the gift of sounding worn and world-weary at the age of 27, a skill many young men have tried to master since Robert Zimmerman dreamed up a cooler new name, Bob Dylan, and an interesting backstory to go along with it. But unlike plenty of other singer/songwriters with a bluesy slant, Tolchin's songs sound like the work of a man who came by his weathered tone honestly, and 2019's Fires for the Cold is an album that speaks of loneliness and loss with the ring of truth. The subdued tone of most of Fires for the Cold suggests a man playing guitar with two or three friends in a room late at night, struggling not to wake the neighbors but determined to make his feelings audible. Tolchin has said he was going through a divorce and struggling with the subsequent emotional turmoil while he wrote these songs, and while he doesn't sound melodramatic or histrionic, he's not disguising his troubled mind, either. Tolchin has some notable support on this set -- Jackson Browne and Rickie Lee Jones contribute backing vocals, and the players include Sara Watkins, Fred Tackett, and Greg Leisz -- but it's his vocals that truly carry this music, and while his lightly gritty drawl takes a measured tone to match the arrangements, he manages to command the spotlight without turning up the volume. In the great tradition of Breakup Albums, Fires for the Cold isn't quite up there with Dylan's Blood on the Tracks or Bruce Springsteen's Tunnel of Love, but as a vocalist and songwriter, this represents Tolchin's best and most convincing work to date, and it speaks of experience in such a way that his songs truly match the weary edges of his voice.

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