Friday, September 4, 2009

Review: A.A. Bondy - When the Devil's Loose (* * * 1/2)

Scott Bondy isn't the first artist to make the transition from rock 'n' roller to folk singer/songwriter, but as these kinds of musical career changes go, his is among the most successful. When his rock band, Verbena, broke up in 2003, Scott laid low for a few years before emerging again as A.A. Bondy, barely resembling his former, angsty self and crafting simple acoustic songs that earned numerous comparisons to Dylan, Petty and other folk greats where previously his vocal and lyrical style had been likened to those of grunge pioneer Kurt Cobain. Turns out Bondy's sweetly rough, restrained voice and newly improved songwriting were quite convincing, making his solo debut - 2007's American Hearts - an enjoyable, mature and natural evolution into the next stage of his musical journey. Now, with When the Devil's Loose, Bondy returns more confident and collected, though the formula that made his debut a success hasn't changed significantly.

The ten songs of the new record are a bit less consistent than those of Bondy's first, but the highs are higher and the results more frequently interesting. Opener "Mightiest of Guns" is perhaps the finest tune Bondy has written, a bare, finger-picked acoustic guitar line providing nearly all the accompaniment to the beautiful, melancholy poetry that makes the song so gripping. Other compelling moments include the album's title track - a more fleshed-out tune with drums, guitars, and violin creating an appropriately dark atmosphere - and "I Can See The Pines Are Dancing," a gently rolling cut which also includes a full band. The group of musicians contributing on When the Devil's Loose are exceptional, giving Bondy's tunes welcome depth and character without overshadowing him in the least. But you probably wouldn't expect less from a group that includes the Felice brothers (yes, THOSE Felice brothers), who just so happen to be Bondy's actual brothers-in-law.

With the album sitting at a fairly brief 37 minutes, it's obvious that A.A. Bondy prefers to avoid jam sessions or unnecessarily lengthy folk ballads, choosing simplicity and modesty over invention or grandiosity. And his restraint serves him well; When the Devil's Loose relies appropriately on the powerful lyricism and engaging melodies that lifts Bondy's music above that of so many of his singer/songwriter peers and into the company of the aforementioned classic folk legends. The mood on When the Devil's Loose is a bit darker than American Hearts, but it's more often solemn than gloomy and Bondy's lyrics inspire reflection and thought more frequently than simple sorrow. As a result, the album can seem sluggish when heard at the wrong time or in the wrong place, but if you'll afford the music a little patience, it works its way under your skin and firmly into your mind in a most enjoyable way. One thing's for sure, I'll be back for more in a couple years.

Download "I Can See the Pines are Dancing" from my other post.