A.A. Bondy: When The Devil’s Loose

A.A. Bondy might just be my single favorite artist of this century — although at times he sounds like he could be from another. His newest release, When The Devil’s Loose, is an enchanting record. Bondy’s a prolific writer, a poet for all people. With a distinct husky voice that holds shadows of the slightest snarl, A.A. Bondy sings about the pines, guns, the Devil, love, and a host of other topics. When The Devil’s Loose is truly a beautiful album, and each song on it is utterly satisfying in a different way.

Playing with A.A. Bondy on When The Devil’s Loose are Macey Taylor on bass and Paul Buchignani on drums. Also on a few tracks are Nick Kinsey on drums, James Felice on piano, Ian Felice on guitar, Josh Christmas on bass, and Greg Farley on fiddle. The album opens with “Mightiest of Guns,” a song I’ve heard live many times. The album version is very atmospheric and boasts some nice guitar playing. Bondy has a great style on the instrument, and his finger picking is clean and lovely. The song ends a bit after he stops singing as background organ fades slowly into silence, snippets still heard gently surging and ebbing until the song’s close. Second is “A Slow Parade,” a delicate ballad sort of song in which Bondy makes good use of silence. The pauses where all music ceases momentarily are just as important as the music itself. It is these moments that make you pay attention, eagerly hanging onto every second wondering what will come next. All of that in addition to Bondy’s songwriting, that is. Each song conveys precisely what it is meant to, both in the music and lyrics.

After “Slow Parade” comes the title track. The song has a more upbeat tempo than most of the others on the album and holds some of my favorite lyrics, well, ever. One example in particular is found in the third verse where Bondy sings “What does a mirror show you, can you see the gray/your sadness it is quite lovely but it’s the sadness of a slave/why don’t you give yourself a rest, oh give yourself some room/you can’t get your arms around everybody, you cannot carry the doom,” before sliding into the chorus. Greg Farley (of The Felice Brothers) lends his slightly off-pitch fiddle playing, yet somehow it works with the song and is not a dominant part of it. Fourth is “To The Morning,” perhaps the slowest song. It’s also the most sparse music-wise but that doesn’t mean it’s bare. The music — mainly guitar, drums, and vocals, with some bass in there too — is perfect, as is the case with every gem on the album. Bondy uses guitar effects very effectively in “To The Morning,” and he also delivers a nice solo. The whole song has a lazy feel to it, but in a good way. It’s laid back, never hurried, meandering through the story. Next is “O The Vampyre,” Bondy’s ode of sorts to the vampires of yesteryear. His ode to the vampires (or should I say, vampyres) before Twilight and True Blood. Here A.A. Bondy sings about being late for bed, not coming out after dark, thirsting for blood, and his Devil’s ring. “O The Vampyre” is a melancholy song, and the vampire narrator explains “you see it ain’t my fault that I am this way/just crying in my box for I miss the day.” The song is another I’ve heard live many times, and I’m glad to finally have a recording of it.

Sixth is “I Can See The Pines Are Dancing,” a mouthful of a title, a beauty of a song. There are videos on YouTube of Bondy performing it solo, just a man and his guitar, and I had listened to those many times before I ever listened to the album version. I love the simplicity and tenderness of the song in the videos and didn’t like the album’s faster, more produced version as much at first. However, I have since come around and the version found on When The Devil’s Loose has grown on me immensely. There’s a lot going on in “I Can See The Pines Are Dancing” but the music is never overwhelming. A.A. Bondy is a musician who knows how to piece things together just right, and everything he creates has exceptional depth both musically and lyrically.

The next song is quite possibly my favorite, although even after listening to the album as many times as I have it’s impossible to decide for certain. The song in question is “False River” which from it’s opening has a shifty, mysterious quality. The song sounds as though it comes from the shadows and retains a darkness throughout. Low notes on piano lend themselves well to the unease the song bears, and Bondy’s voice also hits low notes which resound with a gravelly sweetness. At the end of the song A.A. Bondy’s voice loftily dances along a wavy line. He sings higher, lower, higher again, sustaining the same word — “tonight” — the whole time. The pattern and word repeat again and again, softer each time until there’s silence. “False River” is followed by “On The Moon,” a touching waltz. It holds the duality of being delicate yet strong at the same time, timid yet fierce. The song is glorious, almost hymnal, and features only piano and vocals. “Mercy Wheel” is next. It has a southern feel and, indeed, Bondy sings about Mississippi in it. The song is, in my opinion, very much an anthem. It would be perfect used on the soundtrack of the right movie, or blasted from the stereo of a convertible while driving down an empty highway in summer. Those are my thoughts, but that’s the great thing about A.A. Bondy’s music: everyone gets something different out of it. Furthermore, I personally get something different out of his music every time I listen.

Lastly is “Coal Hits The Fire,” another waltz. The song opens with effects that would best be described as electric raindrops or, more accurately, reminiscent of mining sounds. The intro is long and slow, preparing the listener for the sad glory that is to come. The drums sound like battle drums and Bondy’s voice has a lonesome quality as he delivers each word with slow deliberateness. You can feel the burdens on the character’s back, hear the harshness and hard realities of his life. Mid-song the music surges to great heights, becoming incredibly rich musically, and stays there for a time before quieting back down, dissolving into the stateliness of the opening. The song has many layers and it’s a delight to uncover them all.

Bondy is quite a storyteller in his writing and delivery. Each song, no matter how long or short, is a book. In fact, I’m tempted to call When The Devil’s Loose a volume set of stories rather than an album. Not only that, but A.A. Bondy’s voice has refreshing authenticity. Whether any of the songs are based on personal experiences or not doesn’t matter. When Bondy sings, the songs and what they possess become real and that is what matters. With each song A.A. Bondy sings he plays a character, and the songs ring true for that reason. Not many musicians can achieve that truthfulness in their songs, but he can. He weaves tales that cloak the listener in their web. Both of the solo albums A.A. Bondy has released (American Hearts, When The Devil’s Loose) belong to my “most treasured” pile and I look forward to the albums/volumes of books of his that are yet to come.

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