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I’m frequently surprised by the genre categories that appear when I load a new disc into my computer’s library.  Tokyo Rosenthal’s new album comes up as country and western and I suppose I’d reckoned him to be more of a folk singer than anything. His subject matter covers a lot of ground, from the personal and observational to some barn-storming social commentary, but I can’t think of a song of his that sounds “pure country” – and certainly not on this, his fifth album, despite the presence of some great pedal steel playing from Allyn Love and some good ol’ country fiddle from John Teer.

       Rather, Tokyo’s a man who writes about the things that make him curious or that affect him deeply and then, together with producer Chris Stamey, pulls together a sound for each song that might embrace folk, rock, country or whatever seems to fit. In a sense, the musical style doesn’t matter too much because Toke’s voice is so distinctive, with its ever-present nasal catch, that his presence pretty much dominates the arrangement. So, from the sweet and tender Tex-Mex sounds of The Immigrant, to the curiously hybrid sound of Smoke and Mirrors (that sounds like a reggae rhythm to me, allied to Spanish guitar and a silky smooth sophisticated rock outro; somehow, it all works together well) Tokyo’s voice is the peg from which it all hangs.  I confess I blow hot and cold on his voice. Sometimes it seems the ideal instrument to deliver a particular song because he can express tender anguish particularly well. Sometimes, though, I feel I’d like to hear his songs sung in a contrasting voice that would bring out different qualities.

          He chucks in one cover version on this album, The Beatles’ Helter Skelter. I guess I’ve never liked this song, I’m afraid, and even John Teer’s appropriately febrile fiddle playing doesn’t rescue it for me here. Besides, Tokyo writes some really good songs himself. I don’t always get his drift, but when he hits the mark he can write a song that will stick with you. I like the elegy he has written here for an Irish fiddler he must have known, Killaloe. He paints a picture in words that captures the warmth and magic of Irish music making, and there’s a similar warm humanity to The Immigrant. The stand-out song, though, is probably What Did I Used To Be?, another look at the protracted economic misery visited on ordinary folks in the current times. He’s written about this before, and this new song has a bit of a driving rock kick alongside some epic, soaring pedal steel.  He’s expressing the continued confusion ordinary working Joes feel at a world seemingly re-modelled overnight, and that big tune acts as a soothing balm for all those caught up in their own stories.

            Toke’s been building a following on these shores in the last few years and he’ll be back in the late spring to present these new songs. He’s a fine, individual writer and well worth checking out if you haven’t already caught up with his work. 

 

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April 2018

1
Courtney Marie Andrews
100 pts.
May Your Kindness Remain
Loose Music
PK,CVL,DHO,JB,LK
2
Mary Gauthier
59 pts.
Rifles And Rosary Beads
In the Black Records
 
3
Caleb Caudle
49 pts.
Crushed Coins
Cornelius Chapel Records
TJ,TK,MP
4
Western Centuries
48 pts.
Songs From The Deluge
Free Dirt Records
DD,GS,FS,HM
5
Vivian Leva
44 pts.
Time is Everything
Free Dirt Records
 
6
Ed Romanoff
42 pts.
The Orphan King
Pinerock Records
 
7
Grant Peeples
41 pts.
Settling Scores vol. 2
Continental
AN
8
Joan Baez
32 pts.
Whistle Down The Wind
Proper Records
 
9
Jeb Barry and the Pawn Shop Saints
29 pts.
Texas, etc...
DollyRocker
MF,HDB
 
Sam Morrow
29 pts.
Concrete and Mud
Forty Below Records
JV
11
Chris Smither
27 pts.
Call Me Lucky
Signature Sounds
JSM,JD
12
Michael McDermott
26 pts.
Out From Under
Continental Song City
CRS
13
John Prine
24 pts.
The Tree of Forgiveness
Oh Boy Records
SP
14
Mary Chapin Carpenter
23 pts.
Sometimes Just The Sky
Lambent Light Records
 
15
Dean Owens
22 pts.
Southern Wind
At The Helm
PJ
16
6 String Drag
21 pts.
Top of The World
Schoolkids Records
FCE,JS
 
Haley Heynderickx
21 pts.
I Need To Start A Garden
Mama Bird Recordings
 
 
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
21 pts.
Tearing At The Seams
Stax Records
RM
19
Abe Partridge
20 pts.
Cotton Fields And Blood For Days
Skate Mountain
MVP,RK
 
Adam James Sorensen
20 pts.
Dust Cloud Refrain
Continental Song City
BM
 
Ben Reel
20 pts.
Land Of Escape
B REEL Records
 
 
Chip Taylor
20 pts.
Fix Your Words
Train Wreck Records
LM
 
Kesia Nagata
20 pts.
Looking For Horses
Caramal Productions
GC,EZ
 
Sheesham & Lotus & 'Son
20 pts.
Clear The Table
SepiaPhone Records
SZ,PG
25
3hattrio
18 pts.
Lord of the Desert
Okehdokee Records
 
 
Marlon Williams
18 pts.
Make Way for Love
Dead Oceans

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