Album Reviews

Tom Rhodes

Who You Were

Artist:     Tom Rhodes

Album:     Who You Were

Label:     Self Released

Release Date:     07/15/2016


We’ve all had this experience– putting on a stack of records or discs that remain mostly in the background… until a song or a voice really grabs you and captures your full attention. This was the case for me with Tom Rhodes. His voice and soulful approach is stunning. You may recall similar experiences listening to singers like Ray LaMontagne, Jimmy LaFave, or others like Michael Fracasso – the voice just sends you staggering. But that’s not all– delve deeper into Tom Rhodes’ songs, and you quickly realize that he’s a top-notch singer/songwriter in the truest sense. And, like many of them, his life story is compelling too.

Rhodes hails from Oakland, California and is now in his mid-thirties, having spent a decade honing his skills. Before residing in Oakland, Rhodes had a nomadic existence. He was born in Houston, Texas and grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, playing in area bars as a teenager. In 2003, he moved to New York City, further developing his songwriting style and releasing a self-titled debut in 2004, following it with No Apologies in 2006. He subsequently relocated a few more times, from New York to North Carolina and then to San Francisco in 2011 around the time of the release of his third album, Better Son. Rhodes’ sound continued to evolve as he performed throughout the U.S. and Europe, leading to his fourth album, 2014’s critically acclaimed With or Without You, which Rhodes points to as his creative breakthrough.  He says, “The big turn was ‘Stop writing about what you feel. Start writing about what you know.’ I realized that you can do more with music than talk about yourself. You can do more with music than express a feeling. You can express a piece of information with feeling and get the same emotional response, but you’re actually doing something to spread good ideas and help people out there.”

This is his fifth full-length album, and is based on his father, a master storyteller and wordsmith, who passed away just last year. In a sense, it carries on a tradition, but Rhodes sees it a little differently; “These stories aren’t just learned from my dad, but this is me taking on that role as he passed away and sort of left that role… This is the conversation I would want to have with my kid, if I had one. I wanted to write about the things that a father tells a son or daughter.”

The backing band is assembled from the Bay Area’s most talented Americana-oriented musicians. The melodies and hooks are infectious throughout, especially in the opening “Crumbling Road,” “Back Road,” “Every Damn Day” and the emotional closing title track, a clear ode to his dad. This is very strong effort and one of the best surprises of the year so far. Spread the word. Rhodes deserves widespread recognition.

-Jim Hynes

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