If the name Tom Caufield is familiar, you might know him from his recent releases or you might be among the lucky few to be aware of his brilliant 1987 Pop treatise, Long Distance Calling, a near perfect hybrid of Eric Carmen’s Pop romanticism and Bruce Springsteen’s heartland Rock populism. But it’s a safe bet that if you know Caufield you also know that he began as Tom Toth and was the keyboardist for the seminal version of Cincinnati music heroes The Raisins (he co-wrote “Your Song Is Mine” from the band’s only studio album; he’d already left to launch his solo career when the album came out in 1983, replaced by the irrepressible Rick “Ricky Nye” Neiheisel).
After Long Distance Calling, Toth recorded a number of albums under his own name and even explored a quasi-Delta Blues direction as Thomas, all bearing some elements of Toth’s flawless Pop execution and hyperliterate sense of songcraft.
On his last album, last year’s The Times Are Never So Bad, Toth resurrected his Tom Caufield identity, 22 years after his debut with that moniker (he also has a male/female harmony duo with Yasmine Tanriverdi using the Caufield surname), and he continues the revival with his latest album, More Fire for the Firedome.
Firedome hews closer to the gentler Pop side of the Toth/Caufield formula, as he toggles between his proven expertise in heartfelt Pop balladry and a similar direction with a slight Reggae veneer. The album opens with “Effortless,” a Pop ode to true love that wouldn’t have sounded out of place right in the middle of Long Distance Calling (perhaps as side one’s version of “I Should Work for This”); a similar Pop tone emanates from “Test of Time,” “Out of Reach” and “Work in Progress,” a song that Bryan Adams could ride straight into the Top 10. Toth’s shuffling island vibe provides the groove on “Greed Gods,” “Waiting on a New Day” and the title track, but he closes out Firedome with a Dylanesque protest ballad, the quiet, observational chastisement of “Change Will Come From the Streets.”
There might be truth in the criticism that, other than the stylistic shifts, there is little rhythmic variation on Firedome, but it’s equally true that Caufield has the songwriting skill and executional chops to pull off an album of mid-tempo Pop ballads that’s so good it doesn’t need the adrenaline of a balls-out Rock anthem or the counterpoint of a downcast tearjerker. At the same time, one does hold out hope that Toth/Caufield will revisit those concepts on his next album, which one additionally hopes will be extremely soon.