At the tender age of 21, singer-songwriter Jonah Tolchin has already had more road experience than many musicians much older than he. Then again, if you knew from early high school onwards that writing songs and playing music for a living was what you wanted to do, you’d start early too.
More importantly, Tolchin has a maturity to his voice, songs and his guitar playing that definitely belies his age. He will release his third album of sweet, sad, blues-inspired folk music, “Clover Lane,” on July 1 of this year. Tolchin — now living on Mt. Desert Island with his fiance — will perform with his band, the Lonesome Angels, at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 7 at the Lompoc Cafe in downtown Bar Harbor; he’ll also perform on Monday, June 23 with songwriter Christopher Paul Stelling at the Oak and the Ax in Biddeford.
“I’ve known that’s what I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” said Tolchin. “All my friends were going off to college and different things, but I just didn’t want to wait. I hit the road and dove right in.”
As a kid growing up in New Jersey, he was surrounded by music; especially blues music, like the Buddy Guy or Freddie King records his dad had on in the house. Those icons of blues guitar were the first musicians to inspire the young Tolchin to pick up his own guitar — though it was getting turned onto early Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Mississippi John Hurt and other 1960s folk music heroes that got him to start writing his own songs.
“Those songs and those songwriters really inspired me,” said Tolchin. “They still do. I really felt a connection with the blues and with classic folk songs. They really speak to me.”
Tolchin attended high school in New Hampshire, where he played music with his classmates. He hit the road straight out of high school, spending a lot of time in the Pacific Northwest before making his way through most of the states in the lower 48. During that time, he released his first two albums, the EP “Beautiful World” and the album “Criminal Man,” which featured prominently the contributions of MorganEve Swain and the late David Lamb of Rhode Island band Brown Bird, which got him on the stage at the Newport Folk Festival in 2012.
It was “Criminal Man” that got the attention of singer-songwriter Eleni Mendell, who passed it along to the folks at Yep Roc Records, the North Carolina indie label home to artists like Mendell, Ryan Adams and Billy Bragg. He recorded “Clover Lane” in Nashville, and shortly thereafter signed to Yep Roc, which will release the album on July 1.
“There were a lot of coincidences and interconnected things that happened around the making of this album,” said Tolchin. “I’m playing with two guys that were in the first band I was ever in, in high school in New Hampshire. It’s been a beautiful experience.”
“Clover Lane” is beautifully produced by Marvin Etzioni, and is named for the street Tolchin grew up on in New Jersey. It’s full of subtle homages to his inspirations, be it the conversational lyrical punch of Woody Guthrie, the gentle sway of bluegrass or lonesome, loose-limbed sound of alt-country, or contemporary bands and artists like Andrew Bird or Tolchin’s sometimes collaborators Deer Tick.
Last fall he ended up in Maine — Bar Harbor, to be exact, where his girlfriend, Blue Sky, was getting ready to start the semester at College of the Atlantic. When he’s not on tour or recording, he’s been living quietly in Bar Harbor, where he’ll stay for at least another year once he returns from his summer tour.
“This is the first place I’ve officially called home in a few years. It’s been nice to do regular things at home, and not be on the road,” said Tolchin. “Though I’ll be back out again soon, of course, and we’ll keep rolling along.”