Friday, September 24, 2010

Tracy Bonham | Masts Of Manhatta

I wondered about the title of Tracy Bonham's new album "Masts Of Manhatta". Intriguing, strong, mysterious. Come to find out that it's taken from a phrase from Walt Whitman's poem "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry." "Cross from shore to shore, countless crowds of passengers. Stand up, tall masts of Manhattan! Stand up, beautiful hills of Brooklyn." One of the many unexpected pleasures of encountering Tracy Bonham again -going back to read Walt Whitman again!

It's been five years and a lot of life changes since Bonham's last CD. She got married, got certified as a yoga teacher, moved to Woodstock and now splits her time between her home there and Brooklyn.

Smokey Hormel from Brooklyn's Smokey's Roundup is on guitars with his bass player, Tim Luntsel and drummer Andy Borger, providing the roots backbone to the album. Tchad Blake mixed it.

The record holds together beautifully, with Bonham's sense of humor and strength as a singer and player (violins, Fender Rhodes, guitar, piano, claves, spaghetti pot, cardboard box) filling the tracks. All the years of playing -her early classical training in her native Eugene, Oregon, her time in the early '90's at Berklee and playing in Boston, and her subsequent, short-lived dominance on the alternative scene in the mid 90's all serve her well and make the release one of the best of the late summer, early fall season.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mavis Staples | You Are Not Alone

I go through a process as I listen to an album for the first time. Because of the volume of music I listen to every week, it's rather quick, but a process nonetheless. Even with a legendary musician like Mavis Staples, one I am so ready to accept absolutely, it takes a certain amount of time before an album kicks in, takes hold. And that moment when it does, the moment when I'm swept away is my favorite part of the music listening routine.

As I made my way through "You Are Not Alone" the new CD from Chicago's Mavis Staples, I asked myself "Do I like this?" and "Am I going to get blown away?" I experienced a slow build, and by the time I circled through a few times, I was sold. The song choices are inspired, and include a few written by her dad the late "Pops" Staples, a couple by the album's producer, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy (love the title track written by Jeff!), and one from Randy Newman, "Losing You", another killer song choice. Mavis has so much depth as a singer and what I realized was happening with the slow build was that I was traveling inside her sound, with all of it's subtlety and breadth of experience. And all at once, I got to the center and found what I was hoping for, what she was going for.

Listen to clips from the CD here.