Album Reviews

Tokyo Rosenthal

This Minstrel Life

Artist:     Tokyo Rosenthal

Album:     This Minstrel Life

Label:     Rock & Sock Records

Release Date:     9.1.2017

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The minstrel life must agree with Tokyo Rosenthal, because he just keeps getting better. Like the minstrel’s roving lifestyle, Rosenthal’s music ranges a bit over the map here, too, though he always has one guitar string firmly tethered to his Americana/country foundation. Let’s face it, anyone with a name like Tokyo Rosenthal either develops a split personality or a particularly wide world view; so far, Rosenthal’s landed on the latter.

Rosenthal sees similarities in his life today to the minstrels of 100 years ago. “We go from gig to gig, often getting room and board, selling our wares, and of course performing our original tunes. Today we travel by car, back then by horse.”

The politically-driven “Now I Believe There’s A Devil” sounds like Buck Owens, if Buck Owens were a liberal Democrat and sang a verse or two in Spanish. Many of Rosenthal’s songs—not unlike Woody Guthrie’s—deal with politics and What’s Right. In his introduction to a live version of “Love Won Out,” for example, he divulged how he diffused a hostile reaction to this pro-gay-marriage tune by reminding his conservative audience “everyone should have an equal opportunity to find out just how tough marriage really is.” That’s Toke, sticking to his beliefs, with humor and understanding.

About half the album was recorded in the studio, including a personal favorite, “Wiregrass,” with effective gypsy violin by County Line’s John Teer. Another few tunes are live recordings of Rosenthal on stage backed by performers like son of the South Charlie Chamberlain on mandolin or the UK’s Kieran O’Malley on violin. The common thread, of course, is the joys and woes of the life Rosenthal has chosen. The opening track, “Hundred Mile Man” drives along briskly, essentially asking the question “What did I get myself into?” while the poignant “The Last Seder” slowly proceeds to its aching conclusion.

The entire album is peppered with a stellar crew of musicians including Chris Stamey of the dBs [“decibels”], pedal steel player Allyn Love and Latin American flautist Juanito Laguna. Backing Rosenthal on the live tracks are the Sap Boilers, Manguss, Charlie Chamberlain and Kieran O’Malley. What would you expect from a minstrel? A touring big band? That’s one of the several joys of this album: consistency without a formula.

—Suzanne Cadgène

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