Review: Tom Heyman’s ‘24th Street Blues’ Paints an Unflinching Musical Portrait of San Francisco’s Mission District

Heyman’s real-life character studies are the barflies, bohemians, hustlers, junkies, and unhoused families that line the streets.
Tom-Heyman-with acoustic-guitar


Back in the late 1980s and early ’90s, guitarist Tom Heyman’s Philadelphia-based band Go to Blazes released five albums of hard-edged alt-country that never got the respect they deserved. In the years since, Heyman has paid his dues as a sideman (with the likes of Chuck Prophet, John Doe, and Alejandro Escovedo) and bandleader while also developing his chops as a solo artist, releasing six more records under his own name. With 24th Street Blues, Heyman is hitting his late-night, post-bartending groove, writing about loneliness, alienation, and “the true cost of love” in San Francisco’s Mission District, where he’s lived since 1998. 

Tom-Heyman-24th-St-Blues-cover
Tom Heyman, 24th St. Blues (tomheymanmusic.net)

Heyman’s real-life character studies are the barflies, bohemians, hustlers, junkies, and unhoused families that line the streets, and the stories they inspire are appropriately desperate, filled with loss and poverty and colored by the struggle of living beneath the construction cranes that dot the horizon. In “Barbara Jean,” a young woman returns to her old life to take care of her dying bartender father and finds herself unable to leave again, eternally stuck behind the counter on the morning shift. In “Sonny Jim,” there’s a boy who loses everything he’s got and has no place left to turn—another player in a game with no winners.

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“Give me silence, give me sleep/ soft and gentle, dark and deep,” sings the character in “Like a Lion,” praying for the time he finally outruns his past, and even if we know that day won’t ever come, Heyman takes a pedal-steel solo that promises something better when the sun rises again. It’s a bright gray light in a neon world, and whatever instrument Heyman grabs—a Martin 0-18, Harmony Sovereign, Guild F-45 12-string, hollow-body Silvertone 1446, Danelectro baritone, or GFI Ultra pedal steel—he makes these stories count, knocking out three-chord songs that pack a mighty punch. 

[An illustrated songbook including transcriptions of the album’s 11 songs is available separately.]

Kenny Berkowitz
Kenny Berkowitz

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