Not a name that’s overly familiar perhaps but check out albums and tour bands from the likes of Chuck Prophet, John Murry, Hiss Golden Messenger and John Doe and it’s a fair bet that Tom Heyman has been involved. Following the breakup of Go To Blazes, his 1990’s Washington roots rockers band Heyman relocated to San Francisco where he’s been in much demand as a sideman with occasional forays into solo recording with a ten year gap between his last album and this third one, That Cool Blue Feeling. Happily we can report that it’s been well worth the wait as Heyman delivers an album that fulfils his intention to find a sound that “combines the loose late night low down groove of JJ Cale and the melodic storytelling of Gordon Lightfoot.” From start to finish this is an album that slowly burns into the listener’s ear with Heyman’s laid-back vocals pouring over some tasty yet subdued guitar licks. Recorded in Portland Heyman plays guitars (acoustic, electric, slide) and organ and is supported by Rusty Miller on drums, bass and piano and Mike Coykendall on drums and bass. They fuse wonderfully and the production (by Coykendell) is warm, capturing a feel of spontaneity that is heard to best effect on Time And Money where the guitars churn and the percussion thumps like a heartbeat heard through a stethoscope.
The album prowls into view with the slow burning blues of Black Top, a Southern inflected moan that sounds as if it has crawled from the swamp. Cool And Blue is a delicate and fragile attempt to fan the flames of a failing relationship, cooled by wintry references in the lyrics but warmed by a very short but tremendous guitar break in the centre of the song. In The Nighttime World carries on with this mundane existence, a world-weary Muscle Shoals type shuffle sees the relationship over with the singer reduced to smoking dope and buying gifts for his ex via late night TV shopping channels. There’s more moping on the snarly Always Be Around, a fine sidewinder blues swatch, a last gasp attempt to win back his girl but it seems unsuccessful as on the last song Heyman bares all on the naked acoustic of Losers Like Me.
Aside from this domestic disharmony, Heyman throws in a couple of classic Americana styled portraits. Chickenhawks and Jesus Freaks has Paul Brainard on pedal steel decorating a set of lyrics that capture the chills and thrills of hitching a ride in the deepest South. Jack And Lee is a robust portrait of a drinker trying to hold his shit and his marriage together while Number 9 burrows into a methadone user’s method and madness while it rolls along like a bona fide trucker’s song.
Overall the album sounds great, warm and vibrant. Heyman’s guitar playing is at times scintillating and the songs are all top class. It’s an album to be savoured, perhaps late at night and perhaps with a beverage but it does burrow in.