By Stevie Connor.
Modern-day San Francisco is stereotypically presented as either a city full of young tech nomads lining up for artisanal coffee, or as a blighted hellscape of fentanyl zombies and street crime. But, on his sixth album, ‘24th Street Blues’, Tom Heyman sings of a more rank-and-file locale, balancing the encroaching darkness of an overdeveloped cityscape with the fragile, abiding beauty of the place he calls home.
“If you stay somewhere long enough, you really start to see it change,” he explains. “Around 2010, the city started to feel like a sped up movie, jerking and lurching forward at a dangerously fast, celluloid-shredding pace with market forces feeling like a locomotive bearing down on anything or anyone in its path.”
Heyman has lived in a sprawling and dilapidated converted-storefront on 24th Street, deep in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District, since the turn of the millennium. Detailing observations and interactions from years of struggle living and working in the neighbourhood as it has weathered the storms and aftermath of plutocratic expansion, ‘24th Street Blues’ sounds as much like he has inadvertently followed the Mark Twain credo “Write what you know” as it is a concept piece.
The characters in Heyman’s songs strive to exist (and sometimes perish) under looming cranes that dot the city skyline as he braids timeless narratives with Americana that at times recalls the rusty, boiler-room reverberations of Dylan’s ‘The Basement Tapes’ or the smouldering boogie of JJ Cale, while other moments recall the beautifully sparse melodies of Gordon Lightfoot and the economy of words that were the penchant of John Prine.
Over mostly acoustic tapestries, Heyman sings stories of displaced families, endangered bohemians, migrant workers, sidewalk hustlers, surviving musicians, juvenile delinquents, weathered bar workers, junky friends, homeless campers, cannabis farmers and slumlord arsonists.‘24th Street Blues’ presents a portrait of San Francisco where dues might never be paid in full, but flowers still bloom from the ashes of the digital gold rush. Like any good long-player, its songs work a deep magic on the listener with repeated spins, while Heyman's lyrics take residence in the periphery of the mind like the spectral passages of a Denis Johnson novel.
Whether he’s darkening the doors of his district’s many Victorian-styled homes or sharing a drink with a veteran bartender, Heyman has haunted the enduring and evaporating pockets of San Francisco’s heyday long enough to become one of the living ghosts in his own songs.’24th Street Blues’ also comes packaged with a 60-page songbook comprising lyrics and music charts accompanied by a gorgeous collection of paintings and drawings designed as companion pieces for each song. These have been created by Heyman’s wife Deirdre White, who is an artist and educator acutely tuned into composing images of modern dystopian inequality and the housing/mobility challenges of the American West.
In addition to his solo work, Heyman has spent years as a sought-after journeyman guitarist and pedal steel player recording and touring with a wide array of artists that include Hiss Golden Messenger, Chuck Prophet, Sonny Smith, Kelley Stoltz, Alejandro Escovedo, John Doe, Roy Loney and Penelope Houston. Indeed, his pedal steel playing is one of the distinct sonic threads woven through much of ‘24th Street Blues’. The album has been produced by Mike Coykendall (M. Ward) and mixed by Scott Hirsch (Hiss Golden Messenger).
UK TOUR MARCH 2024
supporting DAN STUART (GREEN ON RED)
13.03.24 BRISTOL Hen & Chicken
14.04.23 HIGH WYCOMBE Kingsmead House Concert
16.03.24 SHEFFIELD Greystones
17.03.24 YORK Rise @ Bluebird
18.03.24 BIRMINGHAM Kitchen Garden Cafe
19.03.24 DURHAM Old Cinema Launderette
20.03.24 LONDON What’s Cookin’ @ Leytonstone Social Club
21.03.24 BRIGHTON Prince Albert
23.03.24 TWYFORD Swiss Cottage
Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Tom Heyman started playing and recording in the late 1980s with the Philadelphia based band Go To Blazes. He wrote songs, played guitar, and the band released 5 full-length records and toured the US and Europe extensively before breaking up in 1997. After relocating to San Francisco in 1998, he began working as a sideman, eventually joining local favourites The Court and Spark, as well as Chuck Prophet’s band in addition to work touring and recording with John Doe, Alejandro Escovedo, Sonny Smith, Hiss Golden Messenger, and many other artists. All the while he was discovering his voice as a solo artist and bandleader. His second solo record Deliver Me, was critically acclaimed, receiving 4-star reviews in both Mojo and Uncut magazine, and songs from the record were heard in the TV shows True Blood, Justified and Damages. Heyman recorded his sixth solo record, 24th Street Blues, in Portland, Oregon.
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