If you’ve never heard of Tokyo Rosenthal, it’s quite likely that the subtlety of the album title and cover photograph will pass you by. It would be a shame, though, if anyone were to miss out on this terrific release for if the late Warren Zevon had been a country singer, he might’ve sounded like this.
The air of mystery alluded to in the album title is only furthered in the eponymous track aided by some ear-piercing fiddle and horn playing. “Maybe I’ve Been Where I’m Going” is delightful both in its wordplay and in its composition and this can also be said of “San Antone" with the latter track being a fine example of how simple lyrics can seem profound and such a quality is surely a hallmark of excellence.
Rosenthal’s voice has an exaggerated sense of emotion to it that really highlights the power of his lyrics. Whether in jest (“The Librarian” is about an 87 year-old porn star) or in sincerity (“Black to Blue” concerns itself with the BP oil spill), Rosenthal never sounds anything but convincing.
Another one of Rosenthal's distinguished qualities is his keenness to siphon influence from any situation or interest. For instance, “Ann Marie” is an observant nod to Rosenthal’s love of boxing. The title concerns a certain WBC pugilist who recovered from a near-fatal car crash to become a three-time World Lightweight Champion. “Little Old Man” is a song for his cat. Two very different subject matters but both addressed (lyrically and musically) with utmost precision.
For my money, this album qualifies Rosenthal as not just an excellent singer-songwriter but as a fine human. The final dedication in the album sleeve rests with all the wildlife who were killed or maimed in the “BP oil leak”. Not only has “Toke” created a musically adventurous and lyrically incisive album, but he has also hinted at human qualities that are not usually found in the common singer-songwriter. Thus I conclude that Tokyo Rosenthal is not an ordinary singer-songwriter and “Who Was That Man?” is not an ordinary album. Terrific from start to finish.
*** Bluesbunny Album of the Month for June 2011 ***