I've made no secret of the fact that I consider Michael Tomlinson to be just as impressive and important a mellow rocker as Kenny Rankin and superior to gents like Kenny Loggins and Dan Fogelberg, both of whom (especially the latter) I very much appreciate. Like Rankin, Tomlinson's singing comes not just from a voice but a true "instrument", a facility that transcends the norms of the craft and which I'll momentarily explain further. Unlike Rankin, though, who peaked in the genius Silver Morning and then faded somewhat in his later output, Tomlinson has produced nothing but extraordinarily solid material maintaining its level and integrity from the first LP (Still Believe) right up to this sterling collection, cut after cut, album after album, now into his 11th release (including one 'best of' collection).
Like Loggins, he also has the ability to recruit top-notch players who underscore his laid back exuberance and highly positive temperament, a sensitive nature that certainly isn't absent of the chagrin and doubt felt by the rest of us but which inevitably finds its way out of the chasms and abysses of travail and emotion to reinvest life with the elan and sense of wonder it deserves. There's more than a little of the taoist to this guy.
Of particular note in this outing are Miles Gilderdale (electric & acoustic guitar), Mike Grigoni (dobro, lap steel) and Mitch Corbin (banjo, mando), not to mention Jay Kenney, who not only tosses in the keyboards but engineered the CD to perfection, especially adept in layered levels producing a miniature symphonic sound…almost without violins, Paul Elliott providing just the one here and there with consummate grace. Kenney's actually continuing a tradition initiated when the singer showed up on Cypress Records, a short-lived imprint that saw such luminaries as John Stewart, Jennifer Warnes, Jesse Colin Young, Tim Weisberg, and Gary Wright, Tomlinson acing them all though nowhere near properly noted at the time (neither Cypress nor Mesa, his other big-time label home, were exactly wizards when it came to PR, and, trouble always lurking in River City, one was working on screwing Mike behind the scenes, the discovery of which prompted his resignation from the mainstream, alas).
The Way Out West continues the composer's love of the ground-level everyday that inevitably roots itself in nature, man achieving grace through oneness with both. Big Moon might best serve as the release's center (and, coincidentally enough, it's smack dab in the middle of the CD), a joyous finger-snappin' melodically swingin' cut that involves the human race in a moment of awareness amidst the circuit and splendor of that night-time surrogate sun way up there in the heavens. The follower, Another Way to Love You, contrasts it masterfully, a pensively wistful track imbued with modern rusticity and the inescapability of interconnectedness.
Kenny Rankin is said to be one of the few singers gifted with a saxophonic voice, as was Marvin Gaye, and Michael Tomlinson has been endowed with the same, but his gift incorporates the aching sweetness of the oboe and the energetic effervescence of the clarinet, a combination impossible to beat. It doesn't really matter where you start in his catalogue -- he wrested the rights to all his early releases back from the corporations, an impressive feat in itself—but you might as well begin here because, as I noted, The Way Out West is every inch as captivating as anything he's ever done. Um, I'd even be tempted to say 'better' but am so enamored with those earlier discs that I can't; it's a very happy frustration.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles