Torey Adler is a guitar-picking wordsmith and a builder of well-crafted, hardwearing songs. He might be young, but he sounds as though he learned to play in the rural South of the '30s, then came of age in the halcyon days of New York City punk.
On this icy winter day in Massachusetts farm country, the dash of his pickup truck is cluttered with CDs of Woody Guthrie, Townes Van Zandt, Otis Redding, and Skip James. The Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed is playing, loudly, as he downshifts hard into a turn. He is talking about the term "folk-music".
"Everything is folk music that folks can play" he says, grinning. "Rock, pop, country, it's all folk. But I understand what the audience means when they use the term and it's different from what a scholar means. In the clubs, my music is folk because I play an acoustic guitar. I sing modern literature with traditional sounding chords."
Audiences are starting to respond. Tonight they start to sing with "This Land is Your Land", a song he introduces as "Our real national anthem". But every request calls for one of Torey's own songs, more remarkable for the fact that most of them are not yet released. His guitar ranges from soft and haunting finger-style airs to driving, punkish romps. His lyrics tell stories, capture stills of urban drama. Torey paints a tableau of the American landscape; highways and depots, cars and trains, of bedeviled loners and innocent girls always moving and always wanting.
Rarely does an artist emerge on the scene with a voice so completely his own who so clearly belongs to a deep folklore. There is tradition behind his words, but you’ve never heard it like this before.