Swagged Out: Peyton Tochterman's 'A New World'
At times, Peyton Tochterman's new album really doesn't even sound like a Peyton Tochterman album. This would be sort of an odd thing to suggest for any musician, but especially so with the Charlottesville-based Tochterman, since he's inhabited a pretty wide variety of folk-oriented personas over the years – first as a member of the bluegrass trio Fair Weather Bums, and then a solo songwriter on The Personals, and most recently as the figurehead of High Society, an all-star backing band that would inject blistering jazz solos into his vaguely traditional songs.
Those all somehow still felt thematically unified, but the classic rocker's voice he slips into with this record really seems like an entirely new direction. Squash the nonsense about coherent artistic identity right away and get on board with this, because he has several of those more idiosyncratic records out already, and it's a great look. All over the place, an endearingly Springsteeny grit creeps up and dukes it out with Tochterman's own distinctive growl, which usually holds its own in the end. "Johnsburg" also sounds a bit like an older John Mellencamp recalling a lost love from his younger days as John Cougar.
This then brings us to the lyrics, where one of the most surprising things is just how confessional some of it feels under the swagger, even when it sounds like something the Brawny paper towel guy would bang out from his pickup truck. "God and Country" recounts the disillusionment of a war veteran driven to a life of crime; the newfound boldness lends either further animation to the bank robbery scene or credence to the overarching lament (this seems to change from one listen to the next). "Red Angel" is justifiably amused with its premise – confusing the devil and the angel advisers that appear on your shoulders – but you also have to wonder what genuine moral quandary it's hinting at.
Unfortunately this bravado is not actually the guiding principle everywhere – just for the strongest parts, and elsewhere Tochterman scales back to self-assured and generic folk-rock guitar and vocal moves that also aren't anywhere near as quirky as those assorted older projects. So if A New World isn't a complete success, it's mostly because it's not all about the new world. Maybe that means he's not entirely confident about this direction. He should be.
Peyton Tochterman performs at the Southern on 9/9. Tickets cost $10-12, or $15 with a CD, which is definitely worth it, or $25 with a CD and a shirt, which just depends on how cool the shirts are. (Don't miss it, since he's heading out on tour with Ellis Paul.)