A.A. Bondy’s “Believers” Must Have Been Recorded In Another Green World

It’s hard not to think of A.A. Bondy — whose new album Believers may be the best sounding record we’ve heard in years — as the inverse of Ryan Adams.  Whereas Ryan Adams led the definitive 1990s alt.country band, Whiskeytown, only to let loose an occasional hard-rocking persona as a solo artist, A.A. (Scott) Bondy led the definitive 1990s Nirvana-influenced punk’n’roots band, Verbena, and he’s recently been reincarnated as… an alt.country/folk singer.  It’s almost weird how much Bondy sings like Adams on the brilliant Believers and its stunning predecessor,When The Devil’s Loose, but it’s the really good Ryan Adams’ voice that we miss, not the mannered singer who flamed out with the Cardinals.

But we’ve buried the lede.  The reason why Bondy’s new album is so affecting — well, aside from having great songwriting, powerful singing, and a musical structure that allows every snap of the snare, every twang from a string to shimmer in the air like a smoky revelation — the thing that is unbelievably affecting is how it self-consciously brings to mind the sound, if not of the classic Eno solo albums, at least that amazing duet with Robert Fripp, Evening Star.  You know the album, the one where squalls of Frippertronics rise into the night sky while Eno concocts a frappe from spare bits of magic.  Bondy does this for an entire album, only the genre is more like Southern folk rock than Brit-genius art-rock.

“The Heart Is Willing” starts the proceedings with a minor key exploration into slow mo’ rockabilly, artisanal fare served at a four-star restaurant alongside Highway 61 where the mystery train glides by.  By the time we get to “Down In The Fire (Lost Sea)” we are in pure Frippertronics territory, only Bondy sings in this not-quite-lazy but somewhat unmotivated voice.  And it is staggeringly affecting, pulls you in.  How a fellow who once seemed easy to dismiss as a Cobain wannabe could produce music this lovely is a question maybe Malcolm Gladwell could answer, for we’re sure glad we didn’t just blink and permanently peg him as the artist he isn’t.

Another artist whose similar journey comes to mind is Peter Case, who went from making great power pop  (The Plimsouls) to becoming his own version of Antiques Road Show, finding gems in every flea market, reviving more Dust Bowl songwriters than Ry Cooder ever thought to. But this is different: this is a young man from the South who does not parody his native culture as being on the skids, he just seems to have given up power chords in favor something far more powerful. Emotion and melody told in a manner as spare as John Hammond’s Source Point, though perhaps without the kick.

Some will put Bondy down for writing precisely the kinds of songs that get included in Friday Night Lights soundtracks.  But we liked some of those songs, and we like a lot of what he’s produced on his last two albums.  Believers may refer to anyone who takes the time to listen to this album.

Just when Tulip Frenzy’s 2011 Top Ten List seemed racked, it’s hit by A.A. Bondy’s cue ball.

One Response to “A.A. Bondy’s “Believers” Must Have Been Recorded In Another Green World”

  1. […] incongruous is the description of what A.A. Bondy produced on the magnificent Believers – an album that owes equal debts to Tom Petty, Ryan Adams, and Brian Eno — […]

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