The scratchy, aged tone of blues crooner Eric Tollefson is not one that comes without determination — or experience. Where many other blues performers fall flat after a strong start, Tollefson has managed to pull off the opposite maneuver.
Tollefson, who most recently hails from Bend, Oregon, is actually from Juneau, Alaska. In case you don’t know where that is, I looked it up. It’s in that tiny part of southern Alaska that should basically be Canada.
So when you see the cover of Tollefson’s sophomore record, The Polar Ends, you know that the polar bear isn’t an empty reference. This dude knows what it’s like to be cold.
Even the title of the album seems like a thinly veiled reference to Tollefson’s frozen past, though he may not entirely admit it. “I feel like the record displays a varied range of emotional stances,” Tollefson tells me over the phone. It was exactly the explanation I was expecting, though I didn’t want to believe it.
The record, an staunch improvement over his previous effort The Sum of Parts, at times seems to be a reconnection with a string of roots that bizarrely escaped him in previous music. The Polar Ends succeeds in many places where The Sum of Parts fumbled, mostly in the humanity department.
“I just wanted to get down and make another record,” Tollefson plainly recounted when asked the story behind The Polar Ends. It’s the response of an honest man who knows he can do better. “It wasn’t my finest work, and I wanted to improve upon it,” he adds.
So you can’t blame him for wanting to make this one count, and he spared no expense collecting a team of various friends, pros and session musicians when planning his new sound. Tollefson went as far as hiring pseudo-famous pedal steel guitar player Eric Heywood (Ray Lamontagne, Son Volt) to get the twang just right.
What this says to me is that one quality Tollefson is certainly not lacking is determination. Many people might say the same thing about particularly pesky street musicians, with any and all implications, but something about Tollefson is different: He’s not just determined to be heard. He’s determined to get better.
Eric Tollefson • Thurs, April 11, at 8 pm • Zola • 22 W. Main Ave. • $5 • 21+ • 324-2416 • Also on Sat, April 13, at 9 pm • John’s Alley • 114 E. Sixth St., Moscow • 21+ • (208) 883-7662