REVIEW: Russ Tolman’s “Goodbye El Dorado” Mines Originality


I was familiar with Russ Tolman when he played with the 80’s band True West and became more curious with his solo work. Particularly his 1990 LP – Goodbye Joe. On it, an incredible little catchy melodic rocker called “Marla Jane” infected my ears.

Since then, Russ released many LPs and 2019 finds Russ with his 8th winner – a 13-track solo LP Goodbye El Dorado. He continues to mine a deep hole of originality that chips away at an old rock that never gets smaller.

Track 1 exemplifies more musical maturity and the addition of accordion on “Los Angeles,” steers Russ down an Americana desert road where The Texas Tornados and the late Doug Sahm play. Nice punctuated horns and a Spanish groove stirred slowly by backup singers.

Robert Lloyd (mandolin, piano, accordion), Kirk Swan (guitar), Kevin Jarvis (drummer & engineer), Dave Provost (bass), Tom Heyman (pedal steel), & Slim Zwerling (trumpet, piano & fluegelhorn) provide a wonderful soundscape. Tolman’s voice has seasoned, grown warmer, more soulful. “North Hollywood Dream,” is a creamy storyteller lyric with Slim’s flugelhorn added as syrup. This collection is just well-played, fun-to-listen-to songs.

Only a few artists like this left. Steve Wynn, Bobby Sutliff, Bill Lloyd, David Knopfler (brother of Mark), Joe Henry, John Hiatt & John Wesley Harding (aka Wesley Stace). Robert Hazard, Willy DeVille & Jackie Leven have passed.

The songs may be rooted in L.A. but not in a punk mode, paisley underground style, or overly sweet folk-rock Eagles cum Jackson Browne mold. These are edgier with a sleight of hand in the lyric or performance – closer to say the slower songs of Lee Michaels (remember him?).

“405,” is typical Tolman, as is the title track, a shuffle and Tolman’s voice — deep with white crests of accordion at the surface. A great song for the late John Hartford – who probably would’ve added his fiddle to it.

The punchier “Yuba City,” features piano, pedal steel and an energetic lead guitar over Kevin Jarvis’ pounding precision drums — Tolman sings in a huskier juke joint voice. Not all tracks hit the target but listeners who do not like California shouldn’t be put off. Tolman isn’t singing the praises of California so much as paints a variety of images and scenarios about it. It’s less dark than Tom Waits but not as bright and cheerful as The Beach Boys.

“Almost Heaven,” is the most accessible. Though it’s a California song and I’m a New Yorker – I like it. Tolman sings with sincerity and does say “almost…” which means it isn’t quite heaven.

A wall of sound provides “Take It Easy, Take It Slow,” with an intro on the outskirts of Townes Van Zandt & Willie Nelson country. It nimbly trips along in an upbeat tradition. Of the 3 bonus tracks “Satellite Bar,” is where Russ checks in with his Steve Earle outlaw country admiration — articulated in a Pabst Blue Ribbon air.

The CD art is a colorful desert cover by Kim A. Tolman. Produced by Russ Tolman. Available at Amazon, Bandcamp & Apple Store.

The 50-minute CD will have folkies with straw-wrapped bottles of wine snapping fingers, country-rockers smiling with beer, outlaw music lovers nodding an approving tattooed arm, and old rockers bopping heads as they light another Marlboro.





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