Goodbye El Dorado
As one who has spent considerable time in LA, I find sustenance in this, Russ Tolman’s love letter to LA, Tolman’s eighth solo album. It’s the lyrics that keep me returning for listens. The titles read like an La travelogue: “North Hollywood Dream,” “405,” “Yuba City,” Pacific Rain” and “Satellite Bar.” Are we sure he’s not referencing the Cinema Bar in Culver City? After all, both songs reference the great jukebox and keyboardist Carl Byron, who has joined Tolman’s touring band for this, is a frequent visitor to that venue.
The daily lament of being stuck on the 405 freeway to personal musings and crushed dreams are all here along with witty remarks and detailed observations. The laid-back musical backdrop is fitting too, especially the contributions Slim Zwerling’s Mariachi-like trumpet and flugelhorn, Tom Heyman’s pedal steel, and multi-instrumentalist Robert Lloyd’s various colors, notably his accordion. Cindy Wasserman, clearly an LA stalwart from John Doe’s band and her own Dead Rock West, adds the recognizable harmony voice. It’s a well-conceived project, that likely benefitted from Tolman writing the songs an ocean away in Osaka, Japan. Distance is often good for clearer perspective; minutiae gets filtered out.
Those who recall Tolman from his guitar blazing days with Paisley Underground and True West, will find a completely different Tolman here. He didn’t sing in those days, and this is clearly a roots/Americana outing. Since those hazy early ‘80s Tolman relocated to LA from northern California, releasing his first solo album, Totem Poles and Glory Holes in 1986. Robert Lloyd and bassist Dave Provost were with him then as they are now. Two other albums followed with producer/engineer Brett Gurewitz, founder of the punk label Epitaph and seminal band Bad Religion, at the helm. These were largely hard driving rock albums.
In the ‘90s Tolman spent considerable time in Europe, releasing two more solo works before landing in San Francisco in 1997 for his sixth, City Lights. His sound continued to evolve around 2000 with the release of New Quadraphonic Highway, incorporating banjo, synthesizer, pedal steel, and saxophone. Along the way he attracted John Wesley Harding, Chuck Prophet, and others. Upon his return to LA shortly thereafter, Tolman released a few singles and formed his touring band. He released a 20-song, 27-year double disc retrospective entitled Compass and Map, with selections from his solo work 1986-2013.
Tolman sings with fondness about “Pacific Rain” and expresses pure jubilation with terms like “free popcorn” and “never bored round here” and “classic cars” in “Satellite Bar.” With an eye toward mortality he sings joyfully about ‘being grateful for every day being alive” in the wistful closer “Time Flies.” Tolman’s Goodbye Eldorado comes off like a dream – fond memories crashing into harsh realities but what remembers upon waking up are the victories of hard-earned wisdom and the resiliency to begin a new day re-energized.
- Jim Hynes