Watching talented young musicians get off to a great start then continue to grow into the truest versions of themselves is a wonderful thing. Some emerge fairly fully formed, while others need a bit more time and space, as they roam through various genres and try on various styles.
When Clover Lane came out in 2014, Jonah Tolchin set everyone on notice that he was a blues-influenced, guitar-based singer/songwriter to be reckoned with. His 2016 follow-up, Thousand-Mile Night, found his smoothing out some of the roughest edges of his sound. Now, with Fires for the Cold, Tolchin’s transition into a tender-hearted folkie is almost complete. Relying primarily on his songs — fleshed out by acoustic guitar, upright bass, and subdued drums — Fires for the Cold leaves the ripping riffs to others.
In the light of a domestic terrorist attack at Walmart, a title like “Supermarket Rage” could easily suggest something entirely different than what Tolchin offers up. His version is rooted in love for mundanity, though not without a quick finger wag to consumerism. Indeed, Tolchin’s primary premise is to root himself in love while moving through this world, musically and otherwise, even — if not especially — when taking on the tough stuff.
Three tracks in, Tolchin doubles the lead vocal and throws down what feels like a soft-touch nod to the National with the slow, hypnotic drive of “White Toyota Ranger.” Mid-way through the set, the old-time fiddle bop of “Honeysuckle” gets about as lively as the album can handle, but it’s a nice, moderately spry breath of fresh air. Immediately after, “Wash Over You” eases listeners back down a step into the warm softness that is Fires for the Cold.
Whether or not this artistic space is where Tolchin lingers for a while remains to be seen, but it certainly suits him. Then again, so did the mildly blistering blues of Clover Lane.