Don’t spook the songs

Pasatiempo - - Pop Cd Reviews -

Scott “A.A.” Bondy plays Santa Fe on Tues­day, Jan. 12, the fourth date in a 24-gig U.S. tour that be­gins Fri­day, Jan. 8, in Mem­phis. He had a lit­tle less than a month’s rest af­ter be­ing on the road in Europe from Oct. 5 to the sec­ond week of De­cem­ber. Pretty gru­el­ing, but also re­ward­ing.

“In Ger­many, it went off,” the mu­si­cian said in a re­cent phone talk. “I’ve never been through any­thing like that, ever. We were open­ing for The Felice Broth­ers, friends and for­mer broth­ers-in-law of mine. The first show was in Berlin and we were jet-lagged, you know, like that, and dur­ing the show it seemed OK, but then at the end, they just wouldn’t stop clap­ping. It was some­thing. They got it.”

Bondy was the lead singer of the Alabama band Ver­bena from the time he was in high school in the early 1990s un­til the group’s breakup in 2007. Not long af­ter that, he came out with his solo de­but, Amer­i­can Hearts. His sec­ond disc, When the Devil’s Loose, was re­leased by the Fat Pos­sum la­bel four months ago. On the ti­tle track, he sings about the sad­ness of a slave. “I don’t mean ‘slave’ in terms of lit­er­ally some­body in servi­tude of an­other,” he said, “but you can be a slave to emo­tions, where you can be com­pletely con­sumed by the tragedy of oth­ers and make your own world as sad as it can be.”

When the Devil’s Loose is what’s called singer-song­writer mu­sic, but to be more pre­cise, it plays in shades of coun­try, folk, and blues. It’s some­times melan­cholic, some­times spooky, Bondy’s voice both soul­ful and feral. “I Can See the Pines Are Danc­ing” is a gor­geous track. He sings, “This is the light that shines, and I can see the pines are danc­ing. This is the leav­ing of an­other love. This is the howl­ing at the moon. Th­ese are the arms you fell into. I am a fire, and I must burn to­day.”

In a state­ment about the new al­bum, Bondy said the project be­gan in up­state New York, with snow on the ground. “I got out of there, drove around the coun­try for a bit, and landed in­Wa­ter Val­ley, Mis­sis­sippi.”

Eight of the al­bum’s songs were recorded in Wa­ter Val­ley, a town in Yalobusha County in north­ern Mis­sis­sippi. On th­ese, Bondy sings and plays gui­tar in an in­ti­mate, raw set­ting, with just bassist Macey Tay­lor and drum­mer Paul Buchig­nani. Two songs (in­clud­ing the ti­tle track) were recorded in New Paltz, New York, with a big­ger band that in­cluded pi­ano and vi­o­lin as well as gui­tars, bass, and drums.

What aboutWater Val­ley? “I’m here right now,” Bondy said. “I haven’t re­ally dug in too deep around here, but I have spent a fair amount of time here. It’s a lot dif­fer­ent than the Catskills. It’s re­ally flat. It gets on more like swampy stuff when it gets wet, al­most like Louisiana. It’s small-town Amer­ica, you know: small-town South­ern Amer­ica.”

Bondy re­lates to land, es­pe­cially the land­scape of Louisiana, where he was born and where he spent sum­mers with his grand­par­ents af­ter his fam­ily moved to Alabama. He also used to hike in the Catskills when he lived nearby. In his con­ver­sa­tion with Pasatiempo, he brought up Terrence Mal­ick’s 2005 film The New World, which re­lates the ar­rival of English set­tlers at Jamestown, Vir­ginia, in 1607, “and what it must have been like for th­ese peo­ple from Europe to land in this un­touched wilder­ness,” he said. Sounds like it could be the sub­ject of a song, but he hasn’t writ­ten it. “No, I can’t re­ally write about things. Things write them­selves. I fig­ure if I do the right things, ex­pe­ri­ence the right things, and pay at­ten­tion to the right things, the songs just hap­pen. If I end up hav­ing to work on them, that’s where I run into trou­ble. It’s al­most like you have to look at it out of the cor­ner of your eye, you know, or it’ll get spooked and run off.”

When the Devil’s Loose holds quite a lot of mu­si­cal va­ri­ety. One nice con­trast hap­pens be­tween “Oh the Vampyre,” a lonely, quiet lament, and “I Can See the Pines Are Danc­ing,” which has a broader mix and a beau­ti­ful, ring­ing gui­tar melody.

“You know, I don’t know,” Bondy said of his di­ver­sity. “Some­times it might be eas­ier to just be Chuck Berry. Chuck Berry is Chuck Berry. I don’t know, I can’t hold a thought for very long, and I just end up ... It’s al­most like there’s ded­i­ca­tions to 1960s ra­dio or some­thing on there. ... I re­mem­ber specif­i­cally think­ing like that on that ‘Pine’ song, like want­ing to do some kind of Roy Or­bi­son song.”

Then there’s the vam­pire prob­lem. It’s a haunt­ing lit­tle tune, with lyrics that in­clude: “See my teeth so sharp and my blood so stale. You know I could drink the world and never get my fill.” Seems like a great time to have a song about vam­pires, with the rag­ing pop­u­lar­ity of the Twi­light se­ries. “Man, you know, like I don’t even care about that song. I wrote that like three years ago. It just fell out. I don’t re­mem­ber when I wrote it or why I wrote it or how I wrote it or any­thing,” Bondy said. “It was just like, ‘Well, this’ll be OK.’ It would never oc­cur to me to write that song now. I have the worst luck with stuff like that. If you lis­ten to it, it’s pretty plain that the pro­tag­o­nist of that song has noth­ing to do with teenagers and be­ing young and beau­ti­ful. I just hap­pened to ride the same god­damn wave that ev­ery­body else rode. That money didn’t find its way into my bank.”

Well, let’s talk about gui­tars, then. Many gui­tarists wind up col­lect­ing in­stru­ments. “I don’t do that,” he said. “I tend to just get the ones I need. At one point I did have a few, five or six — cool ones, but I don’t have a need. ... I like to have one and I get at­tached to the sound of one in­stru­ment and how many sounds it can make, as op­posed to us­ing a bunch.”

But some­times you pick up a dif­fer­ent gui­tar and it can bring out dif­fer­ent ideas. “Yeah, that’s true. It can in­spire you. I be­lieve in in­stru­ments be­ing com­plicit in chang­ing di­rec­tion, but I played this hol­low-body Guild from one of The Felice Broth­ers, and that’s what I have, a Guild hol­low­body ‘ Slim Jim.’ It’s al­most like it’s not a gui­tar— not the way I used to rec­og­nize it. It’s just like a re­ally dif­fer­ent in­stru­ment, and you can’t play it like you’d play a Stra­to­caster. It just will not let you do that. You can’t do ridicu­lous gui­tar so­los on it.”

Bondy and his Guild are com­ing to Santa Fe with two fel­low mu­si­cians. “Macey Tay­lor plays bass and some weird sci­ence-fic­tion or­gan, a 1970s syn­the­sizer, and we have Ben Lester fromWis­con­sin. He plays pedal steel and drums and other in­stru­ments. He keeps show­ing up with new stuff, which I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate be­cause it keeps things new for me, ’ cause I’m just lazy. Me and Macey are from Alabama, and we’re just lazy as hell.”

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