Russ Tolman. Goodbye El Dorado.

1009660237Blabber’n’Smoke noted, with some relish, the re-emergence of Russ Tolman back in 2017 when we reviewed his retrospective compilation, Compass & Map which also contained a smattering of new songs. Now, one of those songs, Los Angeles, heads up Tolman’s first solo album in many years and it’s a good indicator of what’s to come as its sweet Mexican influenced melody evokes a sun kissed climate while the words concern someone lost in the endless labyrinth of the city of angels. Goodbye El Dorado is an album soaked in the romance of LA while acknowledging the seedier side of life there. It’s a well worn trope going back to writers such as Raymond Chandler and Ross McDonald and movies such as Chinatown and Robert Altman’s the Long Goodbye while much of the more scandalous goings on were chronicled in Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon books.

Having said that, Tolman never gets too seedy nor melodramatic but he knows that LA is a magnet for folk who believe in the dream and who are inevitably let down while the living there is not always easy with daily traffic jams and the threat of flash fires to contend with. He writes as a person who has inhaled the city for many years but with a fine sense of detachment, most of the songs here were written by him while he was living in Japan, so this “love letter to Los Angeles” is tempered with distance and insight.

Tolman recorded Goodbye El Dorado when he returned to LA from Japan, picking his ace group of players from past friends. Robert Lloyd, Dave Provost, Kirk Swan and Kevin Jarvis are the primary players while Tom Heyman and Slim Zwerling provide pedal steel and horns respectively. Also on board are Cindy Wasserman and Dan Janisch on backing vocals. It’s an LA dream band really and it shows throughout the album as the players weave intricate patterns into the music, a prime example being on Take It Easy Take It Slow. It’s a song which is not too far removed from the peaceful easy feeling style of the Eagles but here it’s  given a rich tapestry of sound lifting it well beyond anything our stadium filling pals ever did.

Interviewed about the album Tolman has said, “I wanted it to be a warm, fuzzy companion as albums have been for me since I was a kid. Something to be listened to repeatedly, which is something that does not happen much in these days of streaming.” It’s certainly warm as the songs waft from the speakers. The opening Los Angeles is a different recording from that on Compass & Map, here given a Mexican lilt with Lloyd’s accordion prominent and Tolman returns to this Mexicana on the title song with added horns which take the listener to a comfortable cantina as Tolman bids farewell to the city on behalf of those whose dreams didn’t quite work out. As the horns blossom, Heyman’s pedal steel weaves in between Lloyd’s accordion creating a wonderful sound. Tolman’s deadpan vocals, disturbingly similar to his buddy Steve Wynn’s on occasion, carry a fine sense of ennui here and throughout the album. California Winter is another excellent ensemble piece with an element of tango in it while the horns recall the work of Calexico but the outro here is just superb with horns, muted twangy guitars, piano and organ all interwoven.

Do You Like The Way is a slight return to the snarly roots rock of his early solo albums while Yuba City comes across as a slightly tipsy trip into a cosmic honky tonk where the piano has definitely been drinking. Pacific Rain is definitely cosmic cowboy music as Tolman heads up the coast on the old hippie trail from California to Oregon on a song which is surely tongue in cheek as he arrives in a town where they claim it’s always 1973. On a more serious note there’s Kid, a song about a waif in waiting who is the product of broken marriage, while Almost Heaven can be seen as an ecological warning, an elegy of sorts for California and performed in a style reminiscent of those iconic LA writers, Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon, although Tolman adds a sinisterly comic fairground motif.

Talking of classic LA music, Tolman closes the album with a splendid jingle jangled slice of sunny side up California music on Time Flies. Calling on Gene Clark and The Dream Syndicate, here he takes flight indeed, closing the album on a very high note.

Russ Tolman embarks on a European tour this week including his first shows in the UK since the 1990’s. A rare opportunity to see one of the original progenitors of the famed Paisley Underground.


Tour dates:

09 May  Colegio de Abogados, Bilbao, Spain

10 May  Nebula, Pamplona, Spain

14 May  Grüneløkka Bryggerhus, Oslo, Norway

15 May  Bastard Bar, Tromsø, Norway

17 May  Folk å Rock, Malmö, Sweden

18 May  Boldts Bar, Haderslev, Denmark

19 May  Twang, Stockholm, Sweden

23 May  Music Star, Norderstedt, Germany

24 May  Kantine, Nuremberg, Germany

30 May  Red Rooster 2019

01 June Putney Country In The Afternoon 2019Half Moon, Putney, Putney, UK

04 June The Greystones, Sheffield, UK

05 June Night People, Manchester, UK

06 June Fat Lil’s, Witney, UK

07 June Sebright Arms, Bethnal Green, UK

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