Jonah Tolchin’s Criminal Man is a product of the environment

Straight outta Shannock
By CHRIS CONTI  |  June 5, 2012

PASSION PLAYING Tolchin sings out.

As if there was any question regarding the impassioned subject matter found on Jonah Tolchin's recent full-length debut Criminal Man, the 19-year-old singer-songwriter-guitarist decidedly sets me straight during our interview earlier this week:

"This album is an absolute bloody cry for social change."

Tolchin's blend of bluegrass, folk, and Americana revisits the spirit and sound of pioneering idols like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and, of course, Bob Dylan, presenting Criminal Man as a platform to address "the abuses to the environment, a destructive materialistic culture, and the pain of poverty and loss."

"I had a lot of depressive energy growing up, and still do," said Tolchin. "Blues music became an outlet for me to channel emotions that had previously got me into trouble.

"Music is my medication as well as my passion."

Tolchin attended high school in New Hampshire and at 15 found himself sharing a stage with blues guitar legend Ronnie Earl. He now resides in the Shannock area with his girlfriend (named Blue Sky), and plans to move to the Pacific Northwest later this year. A recent cross-country jaunt became the driving inspirational force behind his debut.

"Our relationship with nature has gone from harmonious and mutually prosperous to abusive and disrespectful, and this album takes issue with how we are living and mistreating our world. I have always had a fascination and strong love for the outdoors, and on this trip I began to realize how much of this country is becoming concrete and metal, and I've been in a writing flow ever since."

Renowned singer-songwriter (and 2012 Best Music Poll nominee) Allysen Callery is the person I can thank for sending Tolchin my way. She had high praise for the young bluesman.

"I first met Jonah at an open mic held at the Mediator," Callery recalled. "He seemed really shy, but when he started playing my jaw dropped."

Callery isn't the only one enamored with Tolchin's skill set: Criminal Man is an all-star affair facilitated by Joe Fletcher and including contributions from Brown Bird and the Low Anthem.

"I first met Joe in Knoxville, Tennessee, and felt like I found a musical soulmate," Tolchin said. "I played 'Criminal Man' for him in his hotel room at the Red Roof Inn and I guess I won him over!

"It was a very surreal experience learning that these people I worship are really just down-to-earth folks."

TLA's Ben Knox-Miller couldn't get out to Chester, Connecticut, where the majority of the album was recorded, so he provided an engineer friend (Archibald Taruskin) and the Columbus Theater to record.

"Ben Knox-Miller is one of the sweetest, most generous people I have had the honor to work with. When I asked him if he was interested in contributing on the album, the only thing he asked me for was a sandwich. That dude loves sandwiches."

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