He remembers finding someone’s copy of Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited on vinyl. He was nine, and within a few days he had memorized all the words to “Desolation Row.” It was the moment for him when he realized that songs aren’t just tunes with words: they are entire worlds that can be inhabited fully, worlds filled with strange characters, unexpected emotions, and lessons to be learned. That was the year he began to play guitar and dream up song-worlds of his own.
Some decades later, Tam Lin, aka Paul Weinfield, completed his first full-length album, “In the Twilight” (March 2008). “In the Twilight” is a testament to the very idea of a “song-world”: its fourteen tracks hit the listener on virtually every level, from their engrossing narratives to their soaring melodies and lush arrangements. The first four tracks quickly pull the listener into Tam Lin’s sweet and melancholy world. “Dark Heart” mixes Leonard Cohen-style meditations on loneliness with the falsetto laments of a Jeff Buckley. “The Age of Ignorance” changes emotional gears, painting a utopian picture of the future in a style part John Lennon and part Garcia Marquez: humans become butterflies and find their freedom. “Siddhartha” deals with alcoholism and Zen at the same time, and “Soldier Called Uriah” lashes out at the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq through a story borrowed from the Old Testament. These are ambitious songs, but they are solid songs, songs that are accessible and easy to get lost in.
“In the Twilight” is a follow up to Tam Lin Music’s “Floating World” EP (2006), a quietly-released effort that nevertheless did not escape the notice of several critics. Time Out New York praised the EP for its “gentle, literate tunes … wistful yet vaguely sinister.” “Every now and again a musician is preceded by his reputation,” Dan D’Ippolito of Jezebel Music, a Brooklyn-based promoter of independent music wrote. “The intricacies and uniqueness of [these] compositions stand alone as a rare, successful, genuine-sounding blend of old and new sounds.”
Classifying Tam Lin’s songs by a single genre is difficult, since they draw on rock, classical, jazz and blues influences in subtle and surprising ways. But Tam Lin has always felt most comfortable calling his music folk music. “All music is folk music once it’s shared with others,” he told BeSonic.com, an online German music publication. “Songs are like children: they come from you but leave after awhile,” he said in an interview with Freshout Media, a Philadelphia-based independent music organization, that commented, “The idea of giving birth to a song that eventually wanders off to make a life for itself stems from the notion of folk music, songs that eventually become standards, to be played by anyone.” And while Tam Lin’s style is so thoroughly unique, there is something about his songs that seem as though they could be sung by anyone living at any time and in any place.
Live, Tam Lin’s performances are charismatic and unexpected. He can appear with a straight-ahead electric rock group, in smaller “cabaret” format with a few horns and a percussionist, or by himself, accompanied only by a guitar and harmonica. At the heart of all these eclectic performances, however, is Tam Lin’s smooth and dynamic voice, described by one blogger as “simple, soulful, and socially-sentient – he could sing the IHOP menu and make it sound like molten glass.” Tam Lin is known for appearing in prestigious rock clubs such as New York City’s Mercury Lounge or Philadelphia’s World Café, as well at local smaller house parties or even in subway tunnels.
So for everyone who remembers what it was like to first enter the world of a song, here is a chance to experience that magic all over again. Pick up a copy of “In the Twilight” and be transported.
Photo: Isabel Belfor